“Art speaks the soul of its culture” – this quote by Abby Willowroot aptly describes the relationship between Kashmir’s handicrafts and its culture. The richness of Kashmir’s culture is reflected through its diverse handicrafts like papier mache, willow wicker, wool and pashmina traditional yinder, and, embroidery work like sozni, tilla and chain stitch. It forms a part of their heritage and has been passed down from generation to generation since ages. It forms a part of their identity.
For the people of Kashmir, especially women, handicraft was more than just a part of their culture, it was a mean for supporting their families too.
With the economic liberalisation of 1991 and the advent of machinery and industrialisation, the handicraft industry of Kashmir is dying a slow death.
The situation is further worsened because of the exploitation by middlemen. The artisans mostly work in an unorganised environment and are heavily dependent on the middlemen for finance, raw material as well as selling the finished product. Despite being a skilled labour job, the wages are not consummate to the skills, creativity and the effort the job demands. With the diminishing wages, artisans are drifting towards other jobs.
In a bid to protect the art and the artisans the concept of artisan owned producer companies can be a game changer. It will not only provide gainful employment and produce contributing members of society but also revive the traditional handicrafts. The middlemen will be circumvented, providing an opportunity to the artisans to sell their products directly in the market, ensure sufficient and regular income as well as an organised environment to work in, helping them protect their rights. It would be fair to say that such companies will be an agent for social change.
A first of its kind artisan owned producer company, called “Noorbagh Artisan Cluster” has come up in the valley. The company is registered as a “producers owned company” with the Ministry of Corporate Affairs, Government of India. Such initiatives also offer the opportunity of skill enhancement thus having a mass impact on the society.
Finance schemes like the artisan credit card, protection of Kashmir’s handicrafts by intellectual property rights, self help groups can further give the required impetus for reviving Kashmir’s handicrafts.
It is a known fact that the craftsmanship in Kashmir is one of its kind. The revival of this industry holds promise for a bright future for the people of Kashmir. The preservation of of the handicraft industry is preservation of the culture of Kashmir.