Asserting that Kashmir’s Handicraft sector needs "incremental interventions" at all levels and "semi-machination" at some dedicated phases for greater service delivery and revival of the languishing crafts, Director, Department of Handicrafts and Handloom, Kashmir, Mahmood Ahmad Shah, in a freewheeling interview with Senior Editor, Greater Kashmir, Nazir Ganaie, shares that creating a digital repository and contemporary indigenous designs is need of the hour for making it a robust sector globally. Excerpts!
Greater Kashmir: The Directorate of Handicraft and Handloom has been taking several initiatives to reach out to the artisan base in Kashmir. How are they responding to it?
Director, Handicraft and Handloom, Kashmir (DHHK): We are taking several initiatives in reaching out to the artisans in Kashmir. Proactive marketing, curbs on fake handicraft products, special incentives to artisans and operationalizing of GI-system for Handicrafts are some of the major ongoing initiatives that are underway. The department is actively following the Geographical Identification certification of the craft on a war footing basis for the left-out crafts of Kashmir. The GI-certified crafts have made the crafts more interconnected than ever before and have led to improved product selection and awareness of genuine crafts.
Greater Kashmir: Artisans have been complaining about witnessing a slumping market for over some years which has affected the crafts and productivity also. How are you dealing with it?
DHHK: It is absolutely true. But not only the handicraft sector but all the major sectors remain highly affected. The Handicrafts sector in Kashmir is again witnessing a revival, especially due to the introduction of improved quality checks and the revival of some semblance of market demand.
Greater Kashmir: You recently mentioned that Copper Craft of Kashmir was getting impetus. What is it all about? Are you hinting at getting the craft GI-tagged?
DHHK: I had a series of meetings with the Copper Workers Trade Union. They have put forth their grievances regarding the ban of machine-made copperware. Copperware is not only one of the basic crafts but an acclaimed national as well as international market for different utilities. To promote genuine handicrafts in general and copperware in particular, the directorate is also mulling getting this craft under GI-tag property and QR-based system, which will enhance the quality and sale of these products. We are here to promote authentic handmade copperware. I have constituted a team who have been given the task of identifying fraudulent artisans and manufacturers of the copperware by the Quality Control Division shall be taken up on priority. The Department is actively engaged in the procedures to bring the handmade copperware craft along with other crafts in the ambient of the GI Act.
Greater Kashmir: But on the ground, the team seems to be absent. Do we still have machine-made products in abundance in the market? Are there any seizures in this regard?
DHHK: We have a robust team in place. However, we too sometimes require support from the police department to maintain law and order in order to carry out the seizure process. A lot of machine-made copper items have been seized by the quality control wing from different areas of Srinagar city. Besides this, the department is initiating the hologram labelling mechanism on handmade copperware items which shall certify the genuine copperware.
Greater Kashmir: Does your department maintain data on artisans of different trades?
DHHK: We have nearly three lakh artisans registered with us from across the Kashmir region. We are constantly updating our database. Meanwhile, the officers of the department and the allied wings have been asked to facilitate mass registrations of the artisans in the craft-concentrated areas. The active artisans shall be supported to form cooperatives so that they can harness the benefit of the departmental schemes.
Greater Kashmir: How are you engaging the artisans with the new trends or the new findings of the Craft Development Institute?
DHHK: Craft Development Institute (CDI) is purely academic and it is also trying to engage with the new trends in the field of handicrafts. There have been many developments vis-à-vis the progress in academics with respect to the MBA-CME course, which is being offered by the Institute since 2020, admissions under the course for the current academic session, implementation of various projects of Development Commissioner Handicrafts, Government of India. Our aim is to take the requisite measures for increasing the student roll under the MBA-CME course so that more students can avail benefits of the course besides this a special emphasis is laid on the need to evolve a strategy in order to ascertain new projects and programs available under various centrally sponsored schemes (CSS) that can be undertaken by the Institute for the development of the craft sector in J&K.
Greater Kashmir: There is very little innovation on part of the new designs and new techniques from the CDI. What is the reason?
DHHK: Well, we are working on the same and regular appraisal meetings are held in this regard. While I appreciate the work done so far by Institute but the need of the hour is to put more focus on design innovations in the craft sector, the need for the creation of a digital repository for contemporary indigenous designs and undertaking new projects in training and skill development in design innovations technology for the development of a robust and a vibrant craft sector in the UT of J&K. In this regard, a special committee has been established to create a better interface with the artisans and to provide design interventions into a variety of crafts with the aim of expanding their respective markets.
Greater Kashmir: How many more crafts are being brought under the preview of the quality certification or Geographical Indication
DHHK: A lot of work is being carried out in this regard. We are working on getting a few more crafts under the GI tagging for various GI registered crafts through Pashmina Testing & Quality Certification Centre (PTQCC), including the introduction of the Quick Response (QR) Management System for GI tagging and setting up of Optical Fibre Diameter Analyser (OFDA) testing facility. We are also promoting and publicizing the GI tagging services offered by the Institute under its Pashmina Testing & Quality Certification Centre for GI-certified crafts which includes pashmina, Sozni, Kani, Paper-Mache, Khatamband and Wood Carving.
Greater Kashmir: E-commerce is emerging as a vital tool of business. This is where our artisans lack and suffer in their businesses. There is very little support and handholding from the government. Why?
DHHK: Absolutely, E-commerce is playing a crucial role in the survival of Handicrafts, Handloom and other allied sectors. I have been emphasising this time and again that e-commerce is the future for the better survival of Handicrafts and Handloom of Kashmir. I must assure you that strenuous efforts are being made by the department to bring artisans to e-commerce. The exhibitions and seminars also have a greater role to promote the handicraft and handloom sector. Internet and social media platforms can really bolster the Handloom and Handicraft sector and in order to take it ahead, e-commerce can help artisans to get in touch directly with their customers to make sales. The middleman ship, who leaves with the lion's share will also go. We have been continuously receiving complaints about middlemen and commission agents taking advantage of artisans’ hard work, against this we are putting our efforts to get our artisans on e-commerce so that they can be in direct contact with their customers. The department is committed to providing market opportunities to artisans from the region. The credit for popularising the art and crafts goes to the amazing skill set that is present there. We aspire to always glorify our artisans. So, it is very important to come up with various labels of handicraft items in order to discriminate them with the machine mode. We have signed a memorandum with Flipkart, and the artisans are on Amazon, Gem platform and we are continuously in the process of getting more platforms to assist the artisans.
Greater Kashmir: How many artisans have been registered on the e-commerce sites?
DHHK: We have nearly three (3) lac artisans and thousands of other groups, and societies and to get all these people on e-commerce is definitely a herculean task. But this remains our primary focus as the Kashmir Handicraft and Handloom has global recognition. Our carpets, Pashmina Shawls, and walnuts are famous worldwide, but we can lose this global identity if we do not focus on quality.
Greater Kashmir: A lot of vendors and even some reputed shops are selling “Amritsari Pashmina”, labelling it with the Pashmina, which isn’t just degrading it but also bringing disrepute to the craftsmanship.
DHHK: We keep receiving complaints. But honestly, we aren’t very well equipped to deal with this menace. Under an Act, my department is also entitled to go on a market check but for that, we need police assistance and so far the government hasn’t been able to establish a wing here on the pattern of Tourism police.
Greater Kashmir: Srinagar Craft Safari has emerged as a big boot for the craft revival. How are you going to improvise on this?
DHHK: Srinagar, designated as a part of the UNESCO creative cities network is a vibrant patchwork of hand-made wonders. The rich legacy and heritage rendered in myriad arts & crafts are preserved by generations of skilled craftspersons & artisans. We are just aiming to push our people, visitors and tourists to live through the journey of these craft wonders from the heart of Sheher-e-Khaas. Under the Craft Safari, we give a peep into our cultural and craft legacy. Kashmir’s priceless artisans need market opportunities and they will do wonders.
Greater Kashmir: What are the major centrally sponsored schemes that are helping the artisans?
DHHK: National Handicrafts Development Programme (NHDP). Under this, the government aims to create a globally competitive Handicrafts Sector and provide sustainable livelihood opportunities to the artisans through innovative product designs, improvement in product quality, the introduction of modern technology, branding & marketing and also preserving environment & traditions and also bringing them into the formal economy. And Comprehensive Handicrafts Cluster Development Scheme (CHCDS) which is an Integrated project under Comprehensive Handicrafts Cluster Development Scheme (CHCDS) are intended to scale up the infrastructural and production chain at Handicrafts clusters across the country which have remained unorganized and have not kept pace with the modernization and development that have been taking place so far.
Greater Kashmir: Can you explain it?
DHHK: The total block level clusters under the National Handloom Development Programme is around 8. While the approved cost is Rs. 1425.795 lakhs. The total amount released so far remains Rs. 432.058 to date and the total weavers covered under this scheme are around 1856 beneficiaries. Under NHDP, we have beneficiaries. CHCDS has been launched this year only for projects under-identification.