GI and our handicrafts

It enables producers to differentiate their variety of products from other competing products, enables to create their own reputation and the goodwill
Representational Image
Representational Image

People dealing in trade and craft are sometimes unfamiliar with the distinctive marks/labels related to such trades. Geographical Indication (GI) is one such mark.  It is a sign used on the products that have a specific geographical origin or location and possess qualities/ reputation that are due to that origin or locality. Any association of persons, or producers established by or under the  law or any act having the force of law can become a registered proprietor provided their name is entered in the Register of Geographical Indications as registered proprietor for the GI applied for by them. Since GI is locality/origin linked it cannot be assigned or licensed to any outsider or not belonging to the group of authorized producers. To function as GI,   it  must identify a product as originating in a given place. This producer identity and customer guarantee helps avoid misleading the customers, falsification /adulteration of products and the unfair competition. It enables producers to differentiate their variety of products from other competing products, enables to create their own reputation and the goodwill. GI. products facilitate retention of cultural heritage, national  and regional identity. Kashmir Saffron has become the latest product of Jammu and Kashmir to get a GI Certification (5/2020), the 8th one,  the other seven products are Kashmiri Pashmina, Kashmir Sozni Craft, Kashmir Shawl, Kashmir Paper Machie, Kashmir Walnut Carving, Kashmir Khatamband and Kashmir Hand Knotted Carpet. Government of J & K opted for GI in 2008 and began to use it in 2010.

In Jammu and Kashmir an autonomous institute of  Craft Development Institute at Bagh-e-Ali Mardan Khan, Nowshera, Srinagar established in 2/2004 facilitates, inter alia, the accord of GI marks. The velvety touch and queenly look Kashmir pashmina tops the handicrafts trade. Kashmir Pashmina has been registered under the Geographical Indication category of Goods (Registration & Protection) Act 1999 of India under Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights Agreement of World Trade Organisation (15-4-1994). Pashmina shawls are to pass various tests at the state-of-the-art laboratory at CDI Nowshera. Shawls which  satisfy quality control parameters are geographically indexed and labeled properly to make the buyers aware of the product being of genuine Kashmir handicraft pashmina.   GI specifies  that it is (i) made of  100 percent fibres  having fineness of below 16 microns and obtained from the under fleece of the mountain goat 'Capra Hiracus', (ii) hand spun on traditional wheel 'charkha' (Yeinder in Kashmiri), and (iii) a hand woven fabric by the Artisans of Kashmir. Registration with the GI.Registry Chennai Tamil Nadu and the empanelment with Tahafuz Society are the pre-requisites for obtaining GI. The 2.5 centimeters eight digit alphanumeric Secured Fusion Authentication Label, issued on payment, is used for certification of genuine Kashmir pashmina. It is non-removable after placement, tamper/wash/ dry proof, and easily verifiable. Each label has an overt information readable under ultra-violet light and a covert information containing a unique number for tracking and record. It is inimitable with invisible Nano Particles known as micro-tangent detectable under Infra-red light verifiable at www. Kashmir pashmina. There are least chances of misplacements of  GI marked merchandise which pass through different hands/processes/places etc, before becoming saleable unlike non-GI products which can mix and mingle never to get identified and recovered. Mr. Rouf Ahmad Qureshi of Narwara Srinagar, the then President of Kashmir Pashmina Karigar Union,  told that he was returned his lost pashmina shawl costing not less than Rs.50, 000/  after six months due to GI mark.

It is six times thinner than the human hair with three times more insulating power than Alpaca wool besides its amazing health benefits. All phases from raw fibre to saleable fabric being done manually make it limited, rare,  high-priced and luxurious fabric in the world. Most of the products are imprinted in varied designs and patterns with scenic beauty of Kashmir and mesmerizing needle work (Sozni Kar) in silk or cotton thread making it globally famed resplendent piece of art. Kani Jama involving a highest technique in weaving and a lot of sight devotion is the rarest of the rare articles of Kashmir Pashmina. In the state of advancing industrialisation marching for harnessing robotic and the artificial intelligence driven world, this trade continues to retain its due position. However, with the introduction of motorization and mechanization in the trade by the wild capitalism more than 4 lakh (un-officially) people are stated to have gone jobless. Local artisans allege that scores of influential traders have introduced spinning machines  and power looms  despite a ban imposed on their use. Statedly many power looms, mostly located in industrial areas, meant for producing count ruffle, are actually producing pashmina shawls clandestinely. Once the cloth is ready, carbonized acid is spread on it which majorly affects its quality & life. Power looms are following a practice of using nylon with pashmina which is against the traditional values of this craft. This  craft, one of Kashmir's oldest handicraft legends and legacy, is threatened by its imitations as the high priced hand made fabric loses market against its cheap machine made namesake. The laws made for protecting the genuine pashmina shawl are not observed  and  the machine made rival is giving  a run  for its money to the original hand made pashmina. Lakhs of artisans in the state, directly or indirectly associated with and  dependent on this trade, are penurious as they earn minimal wages despite undergoing long & continuous hours of work. The sedentary work has also affected their health resulting in hardships to  make their both ends meet. The  successive   governments  did very little   to  promote this trade.

Moreover, the spurious pashmina gives a bad name to the original hand made  Kashmiri pashmina which was known for its superior quality. Although march of machines  is unstoppable yet the impurities in stuff, deficiencies in size and fake manufacturing should have been guarded against and  pristine purity  & glory of the original Kashmiri shawl upheld. The  adulteration of the wool stuff and projecting machine made shawls as handmade ones  has brought disrepute  to the people and doom to the trade. Besides, supply of shawls not conforming to the  ordered design has cast slur upon the craftsmanship  disturbing the exchange value  with reduction or withholding of supply orders. The menace of fake handicrafts by the avaricious is to be stopped to save this industry from getting defamed. This more than 600 year old handicraft has remained the crowning glory of art and culture of Jammu & Kashmir. The line Departments/Corporations have  to enlarge and actuate their activities to revive this trade which once provided a major source of livelihood to people and  a considerable revenue to Government. Besides, the eruption of pandemic novel Covid-19 (12/2019) which has forced the ever  largest mass lockdown/ quarantine in human history, loss of salaried jobs and labour to millions of people due to full or partial closures of work places, there is a pre-cariat imploring for rejuvenating  the trade to assuage the problem of unemployment. Efficient steps may  be taken to  balm the bleeding hearts /trembling hands and buttress the shattered humanity. A reasonable  cash assistance  and some guidance/ protection  will surely work wonders.

The author is a former Sr. Audit Officer and consultant   of A.G's Office Srinagar.

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