Muhammad Yunus who was awarded Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for pioneering the concepts of microcredit and microfinance found that every poor and women need loans. They can have an activity and repay.
For formal financial institutions like banks poor were unbankable and qualifying for a loan was a distant dream. But reaching out to even poorest of the poor through microcredit and microfinance initiatives proved it wrong. When funds were made available to them, they generated productive economic activity to earn livelihood and even repaid the bank loan within the stipulated time.
Let's have a look at the micro finance activities in our state (J&K). We have a huge chunk of population which qualifies for support through micro finance initiatives. But the scenario here is not impressive. Among others, artisan community is one of the most deserving communities for micro finance support. Several attempts were made in the past one decade to trigger local economic revolution through micro financing. But it failed.
However, a ray of hope is visible. Last week Oaki (locally known as Waki) a far flung village in south Kashmir known for its artisans in wicker willow work, especially Kanuri making and earthen pottery, hit headlines. None other than the chief minister Mehbooba Mufti expressed her keeness to explore the local economic potential by lending financial support to hundreds of artisans carving out their living out of heritage crafts like 'Kangri' making and earthen pottery.
Even as Kashmir is a known unique geography for the kind of messy political scenario, its economic ecosystem is equally lending support to its popularity across the globe. Here it's the handicrafts sector (cultural industry) which has captured the hearts of people across the globe. Basically, the skilful craftsmanship of Kashmiri artists has made Kashmiri handicrafts as prized possession world over.
But artisans of these heritage crafts have been living in abject poverty. Despite skilled, they have failed to lift their lives to modern living standard. Reason has been the lack of access to the formal financial resources.
Today this cultural industry is full of challenges as the craftsmanship has failed the artisan community to even feed their families. We have a huge chunk of our population associated with tiny, cottage and village industries sectors who have been struggling for support to their craftsmanship. This scenario has enforced migration within the artisan community to different vocations to ensure sufficient earnings at least supplementing two time meals Ultimately, we have endangered crafts which need support to survive.
Take the case of Kashmir pottery. The art is dying. However, we see a huge potential to revive the craft in Kashmir. Kashmir pottery has its own space in the history of Kashmir. The demand for home and garden pottery products is tremendous as people, on an average, have relatively spacious houses and gardens. We have observed that when pottery products from Delhi and Rajasthan were on sale in a handicraft fair, it was sold out in less than a week.
The artisans associated with this craft are not today inclined to the craft as they have failed to carve out their living out of this activity. So the first thing would be to organize and facilitate the artisans to organize themselves in to Self Help Groups (SHG) and Joint Liability Groups (JLG) to guide them to have access to formal financial as well as marketing support. The artisans should be encouraged to have a few products like the candle holders, salt and pepper sets and the lamps with wicker shades and seek the market feedback. This exercise would help in defining subsequent interventions, particularly technology interventions, for improvements.
The craftsmen should be guided to explore design exploration and shortlist potential products, upgradation of the traditional glaze in terms of composition, for consistent quality and wider colour range, to increase marketability like making coordinated sets, label and packaging, identify and facilitate of appropriate technology and infrastructure that may be used for better quality production.
Similar support can be tailored for the artisans associated with wicker willow work, especially in 'Kangri' making.
Though these kind of micro finance initiatives bear impact, yet funds through the window of corporate social responsibility can be pumped into the artisan community. This community qualifies for CSR support on two counts: One, for being poor and living in abject poverty. Two, they are the pillars of cultural industry – heritage arts and crafts.
So need is to look beyond soft loans through micro finance schemes. The government should woo corporate sector through a detailed project report wherein artisan welfare measures are put before the art. Besides, social security of artisans should be taken care of. Precisely, while aiming to bring back the glory of endangered crafts, crafting prosperity for craftsmen is inevitable whether through micro-financing or exploring CSR window.
(The views are of the author and not that of the institution he works for)