Ganderbal: Shallabugh village in central Kashmir’s Ganderbal district is the hub of willow wicker works in Kashmir but the artisans of this heritage craft complain of living in abject poverty.
Despite being skilled, they have failed to improve the standard of their living due to the lack of awareness and access to financial resources.
Shallabugh village, located 8 km from Ganderbal main town, is home to willow artisans with around 90 percent of the population associated with the willow craft for nearly 50 years now.
Shallabugh village, which earned the status of ‘model village’ in 2002, is the largest producer of willow baskets in Kashmir.
Nearly 5000 people belonging to about 600 families of the village depend on willow works for earning a living.
The willow products have an attractive face value and intricate designs which make them a hit not only in the local markets but are also exported to different parts of the country and abroad.
The Kashmir's traditional wicker craft also known as 'Kanil Kaem' is struggling to survive in Shallabugh that has been facing a non-serious attitude of the successive governments in lending financial support to hundreds of artisans carving out their living out of heritage crafts like ‘Kangri’, wicker baskets, and other wicker works.
“A huge chunk of the village population has for decades been associated with willow works. They have been struggling to support their craftsmanship. As a result the artisan community has been changing their vocations to ensure sufficient earnings,” said Ghulam Nabi, a local artisan.
Being involved in this profession for over 40 years, he says that the demand for wicker craft has dwindled to such an extent that he is hardly able to make his ends meet.
“We don’t get any financial help from any government department. The willow products have a good face value and attract buyers but the artisans get paid peanuts. Due to lack of funding and incentives, the artisans are forced to sell their work to intermediaries,” says Ghulam Nabi.
Another artisan Abdul Rehman said that the skilled men and women painstakingly interweave the thin and flexible reeds into nice and fancy products.
“These goods are enchanting and attractive for the customer,” he said.
Many willow wicker artisans said most of the goods are sold in Kashmir itself while the demand from outside was low.
Others said that the traditional Kashmir wicker crafts have lost their sheen and people no longer demand wicker products, as cheaper plastic replacements are easily available in the market.
They urged the government to put a ban on plastic products used in place of the wicker items.