World famous and traditional J&K handicrafts making a comeback

February 05, 2022
A Kashmiri artisan and weaver is crafting the famous Pashmina shawls.
A Kashmiri artisan and weaver is crafting the famous Pashmina shawls.

NEW DELHI — Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) is a Union Territory (UT) of India, located in the country’s northern part, and a global tourist destination. The UT’s economy is primarily services based and agri-oriented.

The Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP) increased at a CAGR (in Rs.) of 8.51% between 2015-16 and 2020-21 to reach Rs. 1.76 trillion ($24.28 billion). J&K’s NSDP increased at a CAGR (in Rs.) of 8.61% from 2015-16 to 2020-21 and reached Rs.1.49 trillion ($ 20.49 billion), according to a India Brand Equity Foundation report.

A vast natural resource base has enabled J&K to develop land for cultivating major fruits. With varied agro-climatic conditions, the scope for horticulture is significantly high in J&K. Food processing and agro-based industries thrive in the UT. J&K has an ideal climate for floriculture and an enormous assortment of flora and fauna. J&K has Asia’s largest tulip garden.

In addition, J&K’s handicrafts are world famous and the traditional handicraft industry has emerged as a large industry. Due to its large employment base and export potential, the industry has been receiving priority attention of the government.

The UT is also famous for its small-scale and cottage industries such as carpet weaving, silks, shawls, basketry, pottery, copper and silverware, papier-mâché, and walnut wood. The cottage handicrafts industry provides direct and gainful employment to around 340,000 artisans.

Handicrafts are making a comeback nearly after three decades as the government, during the past two years, has worked hard to infuse new life into the traditional arts and crafts that have been an integral part of Himalayan region’s culture for the past many centuries.

After the Pakistan-sponsored insurgency wreaked havoc in the erstwhile princely state this vital sector, which used to provide employment to lakhs of people, bore the brunt of violence. Many traditional arts and crafts became extinct as artisans and craftsmen called it.

According to historians the earliest records of handicrafts can be traced back to the seventh century. However, the handicrafts of J&K gained popularity in the sixteenth century during the Mogol rule. Emperor Akbar was believed to be a great admirer of Kashmiri shawls, the uniquely gifted work of many weavers found its ways beyond South Asia during the Mogol era.

Handicrafts of J&K are not only confined to shawls and carpets only, there are wide range of products that are manufactured by the artisans in the Union Territory, these include paper machie work, wood carving, willow work, namda, chain stitch, sozni etc. The handmade products of J&K are famous across the globe and have a wide market.

In J&K there are about 2.50 lakhs artisans who are directly dependent upon handicrafts for their livelihood. Besides, there is great potential in this sector for generating more employment opportunities. There are 16 unique crafts in Kashmir with which about 60 percent of households are associated directly or indirectly.

As per a research, there are about 4-5 lakh artisans and 179 major craft clusters associated with the handicraft sector of J&K generating the revenue of more than a thousand crore rupees.

As per an economic analysis of the handicraft industry in Jammu and Kashmir, this number is 3 lakh. The twin sectors of handlooms and handicrafts are the major and the oldest in India with about 4.3 million weavers and 6.9 million artisans. Kashmiri handicrafts involve about 3.5 lakh craftsmen and artisans. According to a study, handicrafts is the second largest Industry of J&K after tourism.

The insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir in 1990 led to the handicrafts sector getting crippled as the people associated with this sector couldn’t work freely due to the disturbed conditions. During the past 30 years many crafts have become extinct as much focus couldn’t be laid on them.

The political regimes after 1990 tried to revive the traditional arts and crafts in J&K but couldn’t do much due to one or other reason. The scenario changed after Aug. 5, 2019 — when the Indian government announced its decision to scrap J&K’s special status and bifurcated it into two Union Territories — many initiatives have been taken to revive the traditional arts and crafts of J&K.

During the past two years a robust mechanism has been put in place to ensure the revival and propagation of traditional arts and crafts, especially Pashmina weaving. The steps have been taken to provide special incentives to weavers and artisans to encourage them to pass on their skills to the generation next.

The J&K government is providing a minimum support price for the artisans and craftsmen involved in the making of traditional arts and crafts to increase their profitability and attract youth in these heritage professions.

To attract the youth towards these traditional arts, the corporations have tied up with Jammu & Kashmir Entrepreneurship Development Institute (JKEDI) so that start-ups can be undertaken by young and aspiring entrepreneurs. The branding, quality certificates, marketing of Jammu and Kashmir based products have also been undertaken to ensure that products are sold globally.

Recently New Delhi sanctioned Rs 2 crore for the procurement of Pashmina for artisans and weavers following which the J&K government directed the Small Scale Industries Development Corporation Limited (SICOP) to handover the custodianship and operations of Pashmina raw material bank to the department of Handicrafts and Handloom, Kashmir. The step was taken to ensure hassle-free distribution of Pashmina raw material to the artisan and weaver community.

The local authorities in J&K have embarked upon the publicity and promotion of GI certified products and have strengthened the local spinning by conversion of many centers into Pashmina spinning centers along with the procurement of modern charkhas from SKUAST-K.

On Dec. 25 this year the Department of Handicrafts and Handloom Kashmir conducted the third edition of Craft Safari post recognition of Srinagar as the UNESCO craft city in the field of Craft and Folk Art. The initiative was taken to suggest how such models could be the forerunners to promote craft and cultural tourism in Srinagar.

The Craft Safari discusses at length multiple activities like mapping craftspeople, developing connections, conducting contextual programs (craft-design innovation and community participation), knowledge dissemination and developing infrastructure, with a core vision of sustaining the intangible knowledge for the tourists visiting Srinagar.

In August 2021, the J&K government unveiled the ‘Karkhandar’ (entrepreneurs) scheme to give a fresh lease of life to the craft scene in Jammu and Kashmir and especially to the languishing crafts. The scheme is aimed at giving boost to those crafts that have good potential but also the languishing ones. Among the languishing crafts the crafts like Glazed tiles, Silverware and filligree were taken on for full revival in the first instance.

The manpower generated through various training programs by the department in the form of trainees would be trained by experienced trainers in nearby units. The trainers include national/ state/ Shilp Guru awardees/ master crafts person of repute in their respective crafts.

The main thrust of the scheme is to identify and impart skill upgradation training in such crafts which are facing human resource crunch like walnut wood carving, silver filigree, carpet, Kanishawl weaving, Khatamband and Paper Machie crafts.

Under the scheme the meritorious trainees are given Rs.2,000/month as honorarium and the trainer gets Rs,2000/month for each trainee and plus Rs. 25,000/- for logistics, raw materials etc. The aim of the scheme is to transfer the skill set of the master craftsmen to the younger generation as this was a general observation that the skill transfer from the master craftsmen to the younger generation was happening at a snail’s pace.

By virtue of this scheme, the practical knowledge sharing between the skilled and those who want to equip themselves in the practical aspects of the particular trade has been made possible. Prior to this scheme the J&K government had launched major schemes that include Artisan Credit Card Scheme and Scheme of Financial Assistance to the Cooperatives for the artisans and weavers of the UT.

In addition to these schemes the authorities are providing all the opportunities to people associated with handicrafts to sell their products. The Directorate of Handicrafts and Handloom has been organizing back-to-back exhibitions for the J&K artisans in different parts of the country. — Agencies

February 05, 2022
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