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Artisans of this Kashmir craft village battle for survival



Artisans of Kashmir battle for survival

Facing financial problems, health issues, Kani Pashmina shawl weavers of Doodkuthu say the back-breaking work has little rewards for them  

Farooz Ahmad Lone

Artisans of Kashmir battle for survival

Charisharief: Surrounded by deep gorges and slanting meadows, Doodkuthu is a lush green hamlet nestling in the Charisharief Tehsil of central Kashmir’s Budgam district. The mesmerising beauty beholds the eye as soon as one approaches the downhill road to set foot in the village.

However, it is not just the landscape of Doodkuthu that enthrals a visitor, but the people living there have got the golden hands. They toil day and night to create pieces of art, which adorn the rich and famous of the world.

With more than 90% of households associated with handicrafts, the village is a hub for the production of Kashmir’s famous designed pashmina shawls. The young artisans and craftsmen of this beautiful place weave traditional Kani shawls with the help of wooden looms and Kanis (sticks) to make ends meet. Even the school and college-going boys and girls do the craftwork alongside their studies to support their families and own education.

However, the conditions of houses and the living standard of most of the inhabitants suggest that they are not rewarded back for their efforts and hard work. When the artisans of this craft village are asked about the reason, the stark reality of their poor economic condition come out more vividly.

These highly skilled artisans say that despite working for about 12 hours a day, they do not even earn the wages of an unskilled labourer. And that too when their shawls get a good price in local, as well as, international markets.

“It takes two of us more than four months to finish weaving a normal size (42 inches by 81 inches) Kani Pashmina shawl on a loom. For which a Bapari (middleman or trader) pays an amount between Rs 15,000 to Rs 70,000 in a lump sum depending on the size of a shawl and the quality of work,” says 24-year-old artisan Gulzar Ahmad.

“We work about 10-12 hours a day and get only about Rs150 to Rs200 if we divide the amount we receive for a shawl on day to day basis. On the other hand, an unskilled daily labourer, who works for eight hours a day earns Rs 500 minimum.”

Ahmad says even after completing day’s work, artisans cannot take the rest in the evening. They keep loading the pashmina yarn on the Kanis or tujis till they go to bed so that they can have another uninterrupted day of work tomorrow.

Artisans of Kashmir battle for survival

In the international market, the price of a regular size cashmere shawl varies depending on the quality of work and size of a shawl besides some other factors. Starting from US$1,200 the price could go up to a whopping $3,500, which equals more than Rs 2.5 lakh in Indian currency.

“But the major chunk of the profit is retained by the middlemen and exporters for whom we work. They provide us with warp and thread, and advance money whenever we need it. In short, we work, and they earn,” says Ahmad.

“So, the insufficient earning and higher basic expenses consequently lead us to fall in the debt trap of Baparis.”

Despite having the facility of artisan credit card (ACC), which provides low-interest loans up to Rs 2 lakh to handicraft and handloom artisans, they prefer to take debt from a Bapari.

A teenage artisan Mohammad Asif says most villagers fear taking credit from the banks even when the interest is low. They think these loans will pile up, as they have observed with some of the people in the village who have earlier availed the facility.

“If you fail to pay back to a bank, the interest gets compounded, and one must have to use all means, even sell his property, to service the debt. But that is not the case with a Bapari. The money borrowed from a Bapari, can be compensated with the work you do for him,” says Asif.

About a quarter of the artisans in Doodkuthu have availed the ACC facility, and a good number of them have already defaulted, adds Asif.

All the artisans in the village are of the view that the back-breaking work is not rewarding. They face financial hardship as well as other issues despite putting in their best efforts.

Fahmeeda Jan (name changed on request), a young woman in her thirties, says: “Comparing to the daily needs, the earning we make is very little. We are unable to provide for our children and other family members with all the required basic needs and facilities in terms of clothing, educational facilities, medicine etc. Not only that, but you can also see the condition of our houses yourselves. We don’t have even sufficient space for all our family members.”

The Kani shawl weaving is taxing both physically and mentally, she adds.

“Besides various physical problems, the work causes mental stress also. Due to the nature of our work, we are confined to a room for long hours. We cannot roam around much like others. We spend all day working but, in the end, we are unable to meet our expenses. This causes anxiety,” says Jan. “As we are skilled in this, we have to do it anyway. And then there any no other options available.”

Apart from the financial problems, health issues is another measure problem faced by the artisans in the village. Headache, backache, eyesight issues, swelling of feet and legs and stress, to count a few, are commonly found among the artisans.

Another artisan from the village, Fayaz Ahmad, chose the profession a decade ago after completing his BA and BEd degrees from Kashmir University when he could not find a government job. He and his three siblings, two brothers and a sister, work on a loom in a dimly lit room on the ground floor of their house.

With eyeglasses on – as almost everyone engaged with the profession wears, the 33-years old stays falcon-focused as he crosses the yarn loaded wooden needles through the 12-micron thin thread spread or warp of Pashmina shawl to avoid a manufacturing error while weaving.

Ahmad says the long hours’ pinpointed focus causes eye strain and eyesight problems. In some cases, he says, one cannot even see distant objects.

Kani shawl weaving needs a highly concentrated mind with a complete focus on the work one is doing. A small mistake of an interchange of a thread colour can ruin the whole design.

“Shawl weaving needs highly skilled craftsmen, for a small mistake can cause cutting of thousands of rupees on Bapari’s part. To weave a shawl, besides being highly skilled, plenty of patience is required. An impatient one can spoil the whole thing no matter how much skilled he may be,” adds Ahmad.

Though, the village has never seen economic prosperity. But the consecutive lockdowns due to the COVID19 pandemic have affected the livelihood of people severely. As the COVID19 spread throughout the globe – particularly in the prosperous West and the Middle East as-well-as within the country, the demand for handicraft exports fell, and the tourism activities in Kashmir stopped. The pandemic has proved a double-edged sword for the artisans and other people associated with Kashmir arts, particularly luxury items like Kani pashmina shawls.

“From the last two years, the demand for handicraft goods in the international markets is down. The frequent lockdowns and travel bans by most countries lead to the fall in exports,” says a shawl exporter and trader, Ishtiyaq Ahmad. “Our stocks have piled up, causing a shortage of money. Nowadays, we (exporters and traders) are surviving wholly on bank loans. The shawl industry is hit badly due to the situation we have been going through since COVID19 caused havoc in the world.”

Ishtiyaq Ahmad says that as the money is not changing hands, even the exporters are unable to provide much help to the artisans.

Visibly cut off from the rest of the world, this far-off Kashmir hamlet is severely hit by the disruption in the global supply chain. The lockdown in an American or a European city or travel ban to a Middle Eastern country has directly impacted the livelihood of a Doodkuthu artisan.

The livelihood of people in Doodkuthu, like many other craft villages of Kashmir, is mainly dependent on handicrafts. In this village of 300 households, about 90% are associated with Kani pashmina shawls making. It is the youngsters of the village who form the majority of the artisans. “About 80% of the artisans are below 30 years of age with about 60:40 ratio of men to women, says Fayaz Ahmad.

Given the small landholding size, the agriculture activities in the village remain confined to subsistence farming of vegetables and paddy. Only few families in the village, who own relatively bigger land plots, are associated with remunerative horticulture activities. While the elders occupied themselves with the farming activities, youngsters had to look for other jobs to sustain their families. Kani shawl weaving was probably the only available option for them.

Fayaz and other artisans say Doodkuthu qualifies to be developed as a model handloom village for Kani Pashmina shawls weaving. However, lament that Handicrafts and Handloom Department has hardly turned its attention towards this craft village.

“Government wears an apathetic attitude toward the village which can be seen through the lack of availability of basic facilities here. The dilapidated roads, lack of healthcare and other facilities you can see for yourself,” says Fayaz Ahmad.

Gulzar pitches in to add that besides the ACCs, the artisans are not aware of any other government scheme, which can benefit them. If any such schemes are available, there must be awareness about them.

“Some of the artisans in the village who cannot afford to buy looms must be provided by the government. We also need to be trained in the new designs, which are relevant in the present-day market,” he says.

For an artisan who does not own a handloom, which costs around Rs 10,000, the returns further diminish as he has to work with another person, who takes a cut from his earnings.

Talking about the Pashmina shawl making process, Gulzar says, after acquiring a handloom, the warp or the thread spread made of the Pashmina yarn extracted out of the Changthhangi goats reared in the cold desert the Ladakh region is dressed to handloom and commenced to weave.

Cashmere Kani shawls are woven using the Kashmiri twill-tapestry technique locally known as Kani Keam (work done by wooden needles).

In this technique, Kani or tujj – eyeless wooden bobbins loaded with yarn of different colours. And a weaver weaves following the ‘Taleem’, a design written and made on sheets of paper, drawn by a person locally called Naquash in Kashmir. The weavers are the craftsmen who bring the design, following the code or Tealeem, into life using the different colour yarn loaded Kanis.

Artisans of Kashmir battle for survival

Kani pashmina shawls are woven with different designs, and unlike other shawls, it does not require embroidery work, as the designs are woven on the texture of the shawls, which is the exclusiveness of it.

The centuries-old cashmere shawl making craft dates back to 1300 AD. It has carved out and occupied a unique place in the scrolls of the history of Kashmir itself. In the late 18th century, it made its way to Britain and France, where its use by Queen Victoria and Empress Josephine, wife of Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, further popularised it. The cashmere shawl is known beyond the horizon.  It has become a toponym for Kashmir- as the word cashmere is derived from Kashmir. Therefore, it has become the Glory of Kashmir.



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PHD chamber Kashmir announces new team in first EC Meeting 



PHD chamber Kashmir new Team


Srinagar, Nov 06: The PHD chamber Kashmir in its first EC Meeting held on Sunday at Amarsingh Club under the chairmanship of Vicky Shaw announced its new team under the theme and vision of progress, harmony & development with the pure aim and objective of upskilling, coaching and mentoring of young entrepreneurs, startups in the industry which is the need of the hour and to facilitate their processes in order to make them future and competitive ready.
The first EC meeting was graced by Mushtaq Chaya Patron PHD chamber Kashmir,  Baldev Singh Raina, Former Chair PHD chamber Kashmir and Naveen Seth Assistant Secretary General PHD chamber Kashmir with their august presence.
While structuring the Team for PHD chamber Kashmir, Vicky Shaw announced that Arshad Shawl of Alliance Advertising and Javaid Anim of ARCO Group will be the Co-Chairs for PHD Chamber Kashmir.
PHD chamber Kashmir new Team
It was also proposed that Bilal Kawoosa will be General Convenor. The other Expert Committees that were framed include Industrial Affairs & MSME (Manufacturing & Services) which will be headed as Convenor by  Himayu Wani (General Trading Company), along with Er Bilal Bhat –Project Consultant, Er Syed Pervaiz Qalander-Project Consultant and Mohd Shafi Tramboo (TCI-Cements). The committee for General Trade -Direct & Indirect Taxes- will be headed by Jan Muhammad Kaul (National Agencies), Mushtaq Ahmad Mir (Wizkids Consultancy & Financial Services) and  Rajwant Singh (New Valley Hardware’s). The committee for Tourism, Hospitality, and Golf & Sports will be headed by Mushtaq Chaya along with Nasir Shah.
A committee for handicrafts, wool and textile will be headed by  Sajid Nazir Shah (Venoos Furniture) along with Showket Mirani (Mirani Shawls). The committee for agriculture-horticulture and allied agriculture will be having a young vibrant team headed by Ubair Shah (e-Mandi),  Nasir Rather (Mewa Nurseries),  Fayaz Bhat (Barkat Agro farms), and Tahir Masood Wani (TMW Innovations Pvt Ltd). The committee for education-skill development & health will be headed by Dr M Y Kawoosa (Kawoosa Chest Clinic). The committee for infrastructure housing–automobiles will be headed by Syed Junaid Altaf (FIL Industries Ltd) along with  Haleem Bhat (Shalimar Engineering Pvt Ltd), and  Umar Mir (HK Cements). Besides that the forum for young bussiness leaders &  startup will be led by Aqib Chaya (Hilltop Hotels),  Adnan Shah (Fashion Fiesta),  Faheem Qadri (K2 Axis Images Pvt Ltd) and Dr Tariq Bhat (JH Diagnostic & Polyclinic wellness).
While introducing the forum for women entrepreneurs  Vicky Shaw emphasized that women’s equal access to business leadership and entrepreneurship is essential both for women’s empowerment and for their ability to affect economic policy, therefore we would like to have an Empowered Women Entrepreneurs Forum for which the nominations will be made soon. It was also announced that the chamber will soon announce its convenors from all districts and industrial estates.
Earlier at the onset of the meeting, Vicky Shaw thanked the leadership of PHD chamber Kashmir, most notably its new president  Saket Dalmia for this coveted position and responsibility.  Shaw further extended a special thanks to a distinguished patron, mentor and past chair of PHD chamber  Kashmir Mushtaq Ahamd Chaya who has over one decade, tirelessly built and shaped this organisation into the strong and influential body of Jammu & Kashmir. Vicky thanked Baldev Singh for his immense contribution to the PHD chamber Kashmir for 3 years and all sections benefitted from his stewardship during the very tough years of Covid and the abrogation of Article 370. While concluding the meeting  Vicky said as part of the strategy, we will review the committee’s terms of reference, objectives and deliverables so as to ensure it is managed in an outcome-based manner. Let’s ensure the chamber adds value to each industry member individually and to the industry collectively through our support and participation.
He concluded by saying that as chair of Kashmir chapter of the PHDCCI, he is open to advise and suggestions for the future development of the industry and the strengthening of the chamber.

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PHD chamber holds capacity-building programme for artisans of chain stitch, crewel embroidery



PHD chamber holds capacity-building programme for the artisans of chain stitch at Kashmir Haat
Srinagar, Oct 15: The PHD Chamber Kashmir, in collaboration with the Directorate of Handicrafts and Handloom Kashmir, and with the support of the Department of Commerce-Ministry of Commerce & Industry Government of India, conducted the capacity-building programme for the artisans of chain stitch on Saturday at the Conference Hall of Numaish (Kashmir Haat), Srinagar. The programme was about transforming Lives through up-skilling and capacity building of women artisans of chain stitch and crewel embroidery.
To build a more equitable ecosystem for women by creating economic opportunities, the Directorate of Handicrafts & Handloom has joined hands with PHD Chamber of Commerce & Industry through an initiative of a series of capacity-building programmes for artisans of traditional art and craft of Kashmir through social innovation & design intervention and skill development for sustainable livelihood through e-commerce and innovative packaging.
Director Handicrafts and Handloom Kashmir, Mehmood Ahmad Shah, held an interaction with women artisans of chain stitch embroidery.
“Women artisans are one of the most resilient, they work very hard to sustain their livelihoods and at the same time, they guard their legacy. This is when the government, industry, entrepreneurs, designers and civil society should strongly support artisans and revive them in any moment of crisis. With a strong focus on artisans, the Department of Handicraft and Handloom is working towards providing opportunities to the hitherto obscure in this eon of uncertainty,” said Mehmood Shah.
“We have seen that women mostly do the applique chain stitch work and engage themselves in this craft which is the source of their livelihood. Whatever applique work we see in chain stitch or crewel is done by women artisans, but we admit that the wages paid are very less,” he added.
He continued by saying that we are aware of the fierce competition posed by machine-made chain stitch and crewelwork, which the department will shortly address through labelling and quality control. The women artisans were told to avail various benefits that are specifically meant for artisans and also get acquainted with the latest digital marketing tools through social media.
The programme was attended by more than 40- Artisans of Chain Stitch from various areas and craft clusters of the Srinagar district. The Designer from the School of Designs Shahena along with her team of master trainers in chain stitch & crewel acquainted the local artisans with the latest trends to put their creativity to productive use as per the market demands and gave a detailed presentation on the latest designs in chain stitch art.
Dr Furqan Ahmad, from Entrepreneurship Development Institute Kashmir, explained to the artisans concepts of packaging and its role in marketing, and he also in detail provided the insight of various schemes of government through Employment Exchange and Khadi Village Board and EDI. He further highlighted and explained and trained the artisans on how they will get on board in various social media platforms and get connected directly to customers. The importance of social media and packaging was explained to them in detail and it was impressed upon them that the internet can be a low-cost way to reach a wide customer base around the world.
The artisans of chain stitch were also made to visit the school of designs wherein they observed the new design pattern of chain stitch and also various designs that were prepared and designed by school of designs were shared with artisans. The artisans were instructed to frequently attend the school of designs in order to improve the quality of their products and learn about the newest designs.
While applauding the role of the Handicraft Department and PHD Chamber Kashmir for arranging such a wonderful awareness workshop the Artisans of Chain Stitch said that they have gained and enriched a lot through the two-day program and will adopt the techniques learnt in the packaging, designing and Marketing of their products

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PHD Chamber holds capacity-building workshop for crewel embroidery artisans




Srinagar, Sept 13: PHD Chamber Kashmir chapter conducted a two-day capacity-building workshop for the crewel embroidery artisans here at  Kashmir Haat.

The workshop was organised in association with the Directorate of Handicrafts and Handloom Kashmir and with the support of the Department of Commerce, Ministry of Commerce & Industry Government of India in an effort to bring the business of weavers, craftsmen, artisans, and designers into the mainstream.

Director Handicrafts Mehmood Ahmad Shah inaugurated the workshop.

“Even though handicrafts is the second-largest industry after agriculture, they do not receive the attention they deserve. Weaved and handmade objects are regarded as art by foreigners, but because they are indigenous to us, they don’t seem to have the same value,” said Mehmood Shah, according to a statement issued by PHD Chamber.

These kinds of workshops serve as a platform for bringing together artisans, craftsmen, and designers, allowing them to connect and generate fresh ideas in response to changing consumer demands.

Mehmood Shah interacted with craftsmen working with crewel and chain stitches and gave them instructions for registering as artisans and providing them with a platform for marketing. In order to expand the scope of marketing for handicraft and handloom items, the director handicrafts emphasised to artisans the importance of incorporating the most recent technological developments and innovations in accordance with current market trends. This includes proper e-marketing of the products.

The programme was attended by 49-artisans of crewel embroidery work and craft clusters from various areas.

On the occasion, Riyaz Ahmed Kawoosa, Assistant Director Publicity and Exhibitions, Handicrafts and Handloom Department, was also present. The resource person, Mushtaq Ahamd, Designer School of Designs, focused on topics including the value of design in crafts, how to create refined designs for export, new and innovative designs development and quality improvement.

“The Indian handicraft industry needs to embrace technology across the value chain, from production to the final sale of goods,” said Dr Asif Naqeshbandi, assistant professor department of management studies.

The use of technology, whether it be to increase production yield or give artisans access to direct digital marketplaces, needs to be taught at the grassroots level in addition to this. The long-term survival and expansion of the sector depend on Indian artists having a bigger presence in these virtual platforms, where young customers are increasingly choosing to purchase.

Dr Mohd Sayyed Bhat from the Institute of Chemical Technology in Mumbai made artisans aware of the importance of packaging for handicrafts, especially for crewel and chain stitch.

Later artisans visited the school of designs where they saw a live demonstration of the chain stitch and the crewel stitch. The tour was organised by Shahena Bhat, a designer at the school.

The artisans thanked the Handicraft Department and PHD Chamber for organising such awareness workshops. They also stated that they would use the techniques they learned to improve the packaging, design, and marketing of their products.

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