Learning the craft

One wonders, for how much more time, would our present and future generations, be kept aloof from craft studies.
Learning the craft
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"So you have stopped storing water in a copper vessel for a night and then drink the same water in the morning?"… He banged the door and left…It was a famous Hakeem, who had paid a visit to his patient, zainab's grandmother. "Dad, is it beneficial to store water in a copper vessel and then drink it?"…Zainab's father had no answers…so she quickly checked the internet to get the information and it helped her learn the benefits of storing water in a copper vessel and then drink it… Her next question, "Do we have shops, selling copper vessels in Kashmir?"… For a 12 year old Kashmiri kid, questions started to pop up in her mind regarding the copper craft….but least did she know that Kashmir produces one of the finest hand-made copperware in India and that the handicraft is an important source of livelihood for thousands in Kashmir. 

A big question arises, how she would come to know about the craft, when there is not a single chapter in her text books, regarding the famous Handicrafts of J&K, the processes of making the handicrafts, the issues, and the threats, the future prospects, craft entrepreneurship etc.

Presently, the biggest issue our education system is facing, is that the content in the text books at school, higher secondary and higher education levels does not sketch the current picture of the emerging  problems and the possible solutions, there by producing a work force that lacks skills in the fields which are very intrinsic to a particular geographic region… e.g., in a state like J&K, the education curriculum and educational content can't be same as in Uttar Pradesh or Bihar, because the geography, culture, society, mother tongue, economic conditions and economic needs, skills etc… in these states differ a lot… 

There are approximately 32 Handicrafts in J&K there is a rich history and more importantly a large portion of the state economy, is dependent on handicrafts, from times immemorial….

So the idea of craft entrepreneurship exists in our blood, but the most unfortunate thing in this context is that we as a society have failed to capitalize on our craft education. We as a society, wake up to our cultural issues only when we are about to loose them….same happened with our mother tongue…it took us 50-60 years to realise that we are loosing our mother tongue and then it became a compulsion for us to include it in the school curriculum. 

What is education? It is an agency to transmit culture from one generation to another. What is culture? Culture is the way of life- it consists of traditions, arts, knowledge and skills to produce crafts, traditional craftsmanship, language, customs, festive events, social, economic practices, monuments , music, dances, cuisine etc…. . 

How educated are we then today? How many words of our mother tongue do we know in totality? how many crafts is our present generation aware of ? How many Kashmiri songs, dramas, can a present day Kashmiri write? How much do we really know about our rich culture? How much inquisitive craft research has been done till date?

Currently, the biggest issue faced by the youth of J&K is unemployment. For a Kashmiri, after completing a professional degree in any stream, the confusion and psychological dilemmas are only enhanced, when s/he does not get a respectable job in the valley, the stress levels also increase with age, leading to increased psychological issues for the present generation. There is no stable private sector in Kashmir and till date, we as people have not been able to identify and capitalize on the sectors having market demand. After agriculture, handicrafts is the main source of livelihood sector for the state, with lakhs of people being associated with it…. A million dollar question today, which poses a big question on our current state of affairs is, 'Predominantly self-sufficient due to agriculture and handicrafts, even under Afghans, Mughals, Why is then unemployment the biggest issue in Kashmir today? Why aren't we self-sufficient today?"…

Kashmiri handicrafts are uniquely placed in the world fashion industry as 'luxury, elite products'. Kashmir is a symbol of luxury and elitism all over the world. The most precious and vibrant tangible culture, for which Kashmir is present everywhere on the global map is 'The Kashmiri Handicrafts' ; the brand 'Cashmere '  being an well established and one of the most celebrated brands world over. While the credit of branding, marketing and promotion of Kashmiri handicrafts, in the 19-20th century goes to the Europeans, with a blooming market nationally and internationally; the clientele only keeps on increasing, as the rich become richer and so does the demand for these luxury Kashmiri handicrafts. 

At national level, 'Heritage crafts' is a subject at higher secondary level in CBSE. Then there are professional courses provided by NIFT and NID, at higher education level. The state of J and K has the distinction of being the only state in India, having a 'Craft Development Institute', which is specialized to provide a post-graduation professional degree "Masters in Craft Management and entrepreneurship" affiliated to Kashmir University. The course having one of the best curriculum in the country, successfully running for six years now, is not only a hope to save handicrafts but develop handicrafts through craft education. Subjects like craft environment exposure, basic design, innovation management, Craft marketing, fashion and seasons, creative and strategic thinking etc… help craft studies students to relate to the artisans at grass root level, understand the craft market mechanisms, craft entrepreneurship, craft research and craft management. Thinking progressively, there is every reason to connect the missing links in the craft education sector i.e., introducing craft education at higher secondary and college level, introduction of craft research at MPhil, PhD level, and strengthening CDI to promote craft education & craft entrepreneurship. Unfortunately, these days, every effort is being made at administrative level to weaken the course – (the only place for craft studies in J & K), the state Government's intervention is the need of the hour. 

A hope arises when we have a lady Chief Minister, who herself is the brand ambassador of handicrafts, usually seen wearing sozani and aari work, pashmina stoles, and a dynamic education minister who is proactively trying to reform the education system…Will then the course 'Masters in Craft management and entrepreneurship " and CDI both survive and get strengthened ? 

We as society also need to realize that, either the people at the helm of the affairs are miss-informed or shown such a rosy picture of things…which in reality, is a gloomy picture at grass root levels. Has the same happened in case of our handicraft development and craft education? While the artisans are finding it difficult to survive, one is not only pained to see our cultural heritage being lost , but also our entrepreneurial spirit being destroyed, still we keep on living in denial…while our handicrafts and education departments should  have, long ago, acted as healers for the wounds that we as society have given to the precious hands of our artisans, one fails to understand, are we so headless & heartless that we see our handicrafts getting destroyed , and there is not even a comprehensive handicraft and educational policy to let handicrafts live, survive, flourish and provide us with entrepreneurship prospects so that we again bring, on the world economic stage, the lost glory of our rich handicrafts. 

In our state, where a well-established parallel network of corruption has flourished for quite a long time now, we tend to forget, in case of handicrafts, where a spiritual connect is involved, we as a society failing to save our crafts, the precious crafts gifted to us by the the Saint of saints- Shah Hamadan (R.A)…. what wrath would we face, in the near future…Why as a society are we so dis-connected with our roots, that we neither study nor celebrate them.

Our formal education system has an important role to play in our future prospects of a happy and prosperous life! Crafts bring prosperity and life to Kashmir. The most precious and vibrant tangible aspect of our culture is 'The Kashmiri handicrafts', therefore, craft education should have long ago been introduced in the educational curriculum with emphasis on craft marketing, craft innovations, craft research as is being done with other subjects like tourism management. We have some of our precious crafts like namda, pottery, gem-stone etc on the verge of extinction. 

Craft education is not only imperative for enhancing the managerial abilities of the people associated with the crafts, but also to preserve, promote, add more to the image of the brand 'cashmere'…The biggest hindrance towards meeting the current market demand for Kashmiri handicrafts is a dearth of craft professionals having expertise in craft management, craft marketing and research, craft fashion, craft trend analysis studies- keeping in consideration the changing preferences of consumers. The vacuum can only be filled by mainstreaming and increased emphasis on craft education. While Kashmir should have been the hub of craft education in the South Asia presently, given its rich craft history and craft practises, a comprehensive educational policy for mainstreaming handicrafts would be an 'Ibadat/Worship" to save what Shah-Hamadan (R.A)   gifted us with….

One wonders, for how much more time, would our present and future generations, be kept aloof from craft studies. Doesn't our present generation have any educational right to read, learn, and explore our rich crafts like khatamband, pashmina, paper machie, namda, embroideries like sozani, aari, crewel & chain Stitch etc… as we explore other subjects like history, geography, medicine, engineering etc…? The strong and undeniable relationship of our crafts with our economy, society, philosophy, religion, aesthetics etc..gives us our identity…and it is time for some contribution towards craft education…before we loose the brand 'Cashmere', CDI, the course  as well as our identity….

(The author is Pursuing Master's in Craft Management and Entrepreneurship at CDI, Srinagar)

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