Handicrafts: A neglected industrial sector in Kashmir

Kashmir is blessed with rich history and cultural heritage, which shows the traditions and culture of the valley and produces variety of crafts such as woodcrafts, pottery, jewellery, stone-carving, etc. The handicrafts from different parts of state have their own uniqueness, yet, the traditional craft, which has endured for hundreds of years, is on gradual decline among the Kashmiri people.

Handmade carpet industry is not only a major earner of the foreign exchange for the economy but also a contributor to the poverty reduction in the rural areas. This industry is spread all over Kashmir with highest concentration in remote rural areas as families belonging to these areas, especially women, can easily enter this sector as an occupation, since it requires minimal infrastructural facilities. One of the major issues faced by the “Handmade Carpet Manufacturing” is the low wages of employees as compared to other industries that require skilled labour. Many workers are able to earn twice or thrice more in other sectors, than in the carpet industry, due to which they switch over to other industries. Another drawback prevailing in this industry is the cost and time incurred on one finished product. On average a carpet takes several months to be finished, which means that every worker needs to be paid for months on one carpet before a finished product is ready to be sold in the market.

Despite many opportunities available in this sector and advantage of cultural heritage, this industry has been immensely ignored, with low skilled work force and old methods still adopted in manufacturing process due to which this sector has faced a huge loss of international market share. Though the demand for hand knotted carpets is rising, the local industry set up has not been organised enough to cash this opportunity.

Due to industrialisation, burgeoning growth in substitute products, rapid changes in consumer tastes, paucity of raw materials, the handicraft industry in the state has lost its place in the market because the machine-made products are very cheaper and handicraft products require complex labour work with low profit margin. Moreover, the rising price of raw materials and low marketing network has put this industry in miserable state. Apart from agriculture and livestock, the alternative source of income is handicrafts.

As far as the provision of credit facilities are concerned, there are several institutions/schemes which provide funding facilities but most of the rural artisans are unaware about such schemes and generally financial institutions require security to payback the loans, which is a major obstacle for artisans as they hardly can provide any security.

One of major weakness of rural artisan is the low level of education, very small number of institutes available in rural areas to provide craft education and most of the artisans are unable to get benefit either due to low awareness or poor access. Moreover, the education and research related to traditional crafts were not added in professional institutes, which is also a major obstacle to pass cultural heritage knowledge to younger generation.

 Lack of innovation in design and emphasized that artisans should adopt modern tastes of customers to compete in the market. In addition, the poor infrastructure has damaged this sector, which hinders production process leading to uncompetitive business. Moreover, due to unwillingness of young generation to pursue this career, many craft tradition have disappeared and many are struggling for survival.

Conclusions

The heritage embodied in crafts is valuable cultural asset for any nation; it indicates culture and traditions of a particular region. The craft production is very vital part of economies in several developing nations. Thus it becomes necessary and justified to pay attention in terms of appropriate policy measures to protect and preserve the craft tradition. Moreover, various organizations and governments have only focused on the preservation of the traditional products. Thus, the question of transmitting craft related skills and knowledge from generation to generation exists. The present piece explored and identified several issues faced by traditional craftsmanship in order to contribute to the sustainability of heritage-based livelihoods and to preserve the cultural heritage. The purpose of safeguarding traditional craftsmanship is to ensure the transmission of craft related skills and practices from generation to generation.

 Author, a PhD in management studies, is presently working on a project on youth entrepreneurship and education in conflict areas at Kashmir University