Once termed as a dying sector, the Department of Handicrafts has revived itself in past few years by marketing products to other states in a better way and also by giving highly subsidised loans to artisans so that their productivity and quality could be improved. In an interview with Kashmir Scan’s Nabeel Aijaz Ghani, Director of Handicrafts, Peerzada Mushtaq Ahmad spoke about the churnings that can turn the tide for better at the department.
NA: Tell our readers about Handicrafts and the various activities undertaken by your department?
PM: Handicrafts is an important sector of Jammu and Kashmir and needs no introduction. It is not only famous in India but all over the world. Handicrafts in Kashmir consist of various skilful works such Namda (Carpets), Gabba (Rugs), Krewal work, Chainstitch, Staple work, Wood carving, Khatmband, Copperwork, Willow wicking, Kani Shawl, Pashmina Shawl and much more.
Kashmir is the only place in the world to manufacture Kani shawl and the only place in India where Silk Kaleen (carpet) is manufactured. Handicraft has been the source of income for many people in the valley from past 4-5 centuries. In fact, after agriculture, Handicrafts is the largest employing sector in Jammu and Kashmir. Over 4 Lakh families are currently dependent on this sector. We all know that for the development of a region, it is important that along with agriculture, there is an increase in growth of other sectors such as industries. Otherwise, that region will always remain a rural economy. Thus handicrafts has always helped in maintaining that balance in our economy by working parallel to the agriculture sector and helped in urban development. If we compare agriculture and handicrafts from the perspective of GDP(Gross Domestic Product), agriculture along with horticulture contributes about 25% of the total GDP whereas handicrafts along with industries contribute over 30% of state’s GDP. It is to be noted that handicrafts and industrial sector are inseparable when it comes to GDP of our state. Thus Handicraft is an established sector which should be considered as an important building block of our state’s economy.
NA: What initiatives have you taken in the department after you took over in August last year?
PM: Handicrafts sector was initially under the Department of Industry until it became an independent department in 1975. Its sole purpose is the development and skill upliftment of our traditional artists with respect to the latest trends. For these tasks, various training centres have been set up, about 550, through which we train many unemployed youths and also help in skill up gradation of various artisans. Eventually, we produce about 8,000 skilled artisans annually.
For encountering this problem, the department with the help of the government has provided bank finance as well as interest subsidy of about 10% to these artisans under ‘Artisan Credit Card’ scheme. Thus, on acquiring a loan with 13% interest rate, the government will help him in paying 10% of that interest.
We do help these artisans with the marketing by conducting various exhibitions at places like Srinagar, Jammu, Jaipur, Delhi, Chandigarh, Kolkata, Kanpur and Lucknow. This provides these artisans with enough exposure in the market for selling their products.
We have many good proposals in pipeline and soon after approval from the government, we will introduce those. We have proposed a project worth Rs 50 crore project under Prime Minister’s Development Programme (PMDP) for the growth in Pashmina production. Pashmina goats are usually found in Ladakh, but recently we found out that we could breed them in various other places such as Kargil, Gurez and upper reaches of Kangan. This could help with the growth in the production of raw material. This project also consists of a common facility centre which will help in processing the raw material using latest technologies. We have also considered opening the second phase of Kashmir Haat in Pampore which will be called as Kashmir Haat-II. Kashmir Haat which is originally located in ‘Numaish Gaah’ (Exhibition Ground), Srinagar is a congested place as it is surrounded by vital government offices and creates complications during peak season. We have proposed an up gradation project of Rs 8-9 crores for the current Kashmir Haat so that both the venues work simultaneously.We are also planning to open an amusement park near Kashmir Haat for people to get an entertainment arena in the heart of the city. School of Design, which lies next to Numaish Gaah, will also contribute by displaying artefacts as old as 300 years old.
NA: Are you facing any hurdles in the implementation of these projects? What have you done to make these changes effective?
PM: In past couple of years we have not faced many hurdles; however, there were some previous schemes that were offered by the Government of India which we missed due to our own negligence.
After the floods in 2014, the World Bank offered aid to start the Jehlum-Tawi recovery projects following which we identified some clusters in the valley where we can provide some common facilities. Till now three clusters have been successfully identified – Noor Bagh (Krewal and Chainstitch), Zadibal (Papier Machie) and Ganderbal (Willow Wicking). These Common Facility Centres will provide artisans with various amenities so that they become more productive.
We are also looking forward to the survey of our artisans, as since 2003 there has not been any profiling of these craftsmen due to unknown reasons. Thus we want to make a database of all these hardworking people so that we can help them according to their needs. As I said earlier, the state government is being very helpful as they too want to see Kashmir as a developed region.
NA: We would like to know more about the institutes related to Handicrafts in our valley.
PM: Thankfully we have three established institutes related to handicrafts sector in our valley, namely School of Design (Exhibition Ground), Crafts Development Institute (Nowshehra) and Indian Institute of Carpet Technology (Nowshehra). These institutes help in educating and training people who are interested in this sector on a modern and innovative platform.
Among these institutes, School Of Design is the oldest. They have till now developed 5000 new designs out of which they have manufactured 900 prototypes for mass production.
NA: Despite various initiatives by the department, handicrafts sector is considered as a dying art in J&K. What are you doing to change this perception?
PM: I wouldn’t consider it as a dying art but there is certainly some downfall. I will have to accept that. For understanding the problem, we must first understand the model of our sector. Handicrafts sector is largely a trader oriented model. Since Handicrafts is a labour intensive craft, the artisans work too much and get paid too little. The reason behind this is that the profit is largely seized by the traders. The artisans are mostly poor. They don’t have the privilege to accept the work for more than a year. Thus they take a job which requires a short time period so that they can finish quickly and keep their family going.
We are trying to find a solution to this problem so that the artisan is benefitted the most. This is the reason we started the Artisan Credit Card scheme (ACC) which I have discussed earlier.
Since the commencing of this scheme five years ago, almost 41,300 artisans have been benefitted and a credit of Rs 372 crores has been mobilised. The government has provided a subsidy of Rs 53 crores.
NA: In recent times, youngsters do not seem interested in joining the handicraft sector. Is it because of fewer wages or bad marketing?
PM: Well, marketing has never been a problem but fewer wages have certainly damaged our sector. Youngsters find handicrafts as a primitive and slow process. They don’t know the actual importance and demand of Kashmiri Handicrafts outside J&K. There are cases where for example the son of a wood wicker wants to be a doctor. He studies hard to pursue his dreams. No one has any right to stop him from accomplishing that dream. But these are just exceptions and exceptions never make a rule. There are many young people who have successfully managed to work with their families to expand their business here in Srinagar and many other places. Many families have recently introduced themselves to handicrafts and are doing very well. We have provided all the possible facilities to these amateurs.
NA: With the passage of time, our craft seems incompetent at the international level. Don’t you think we need to upgrade it?
PM: I disagree. I have already discussed with you about our institutes and all the training centres which have been working over the years for the upliftment of the skill of our artisans. Our institutes have produced new and innovative designs whose prototypes are being mass produced as we speak. We get importers all around the world who want to manufacture their designs so that they can take them back.
NA: The biggest setback for Kashmiri Handicrafts is production of fake artefacts e.g. fake Pashmina. What are the steps you have taken to encounter this problem?
PM: Unfortunately, fake Pashmina is circulated all around the world on sky high prices but at the same time we are doing our best to stop this nuisance. We have already established testing labs in our institutes where original shawls are tested and labelled. We have also acquired GI (Geographical Indication) of various crafts such as Khatmband and Kani shawl. Once the laboratories in our institutes are upgraded, we will make it mandatory for everyone to get their shawls checked and labelled before sale.