Kashmiri artisans were once a vibrant, dynamic and prosperous people with a thriving self-sufficient economy. But how had they come to be so? With 700 followers descended upon the land of Kashmir, a sufi saint, Mir Syed Ali Hamdani from Persia is the one who shaped and changed Kashmir for ever both in its social set up and its economic moorings. Among the 700 followers who accompanied him to Kashmir, were men of arts and crafts who flourished in the valley. They popularized Shawl-making, carpet-manufacturing, cloth-weaving, pottery and calligraphy etc. The skills and know-how he brought to Kashmir gave rise to an industry which is world famous even now as the home of Kashmiri shawls. The many vocations he introduced in the valley have provided a livelihood to the artisans of Kashmir for centuries.
Today these arts and crafts which made Kashmir famous and became both its face and specialty in the world are in shambles. Since more than two decades the craft is dying out in the face of cheap foreign imports and emergence of power looms due to which young generation are dispassionate in accruing this skill. The pashmina material is very delicate and is considered too fragile for the force of power loom. The spinning is only possible on traditional wheel known as “Yendir” which is mostly spinned by Women. Manufacturing of pashmina on power looms can never be genuine. Because of nylon, alpaca, angora, mohair, llama fibre and other such materials are used to strengthen the pashmina thread, otherwise it cannot be spinned/weaved on power looms. The Pashmina shawls which are being manufactured by machines may give you the impression of a typical pashmina shawl but their durability is not long lasting. The substandard shawls which come from outsides states are also being labelled as Kashimiri pashmina shawls and are sold at cheaper rates.
For understanding, one handmade shawl takes more than month in making, while machine/power loom produces one in every 15 minutes. The power looms invasion in the valley has snatched bread and butter of around 2 lakh poor artisans. (mainly spinner and weaver). Some of these artisans have now switched to the other labour works and Women (spinners) who were the back bone of pashmina craft are totally unemployed. The artisans who are still associated with this craft are not satisfied as they are being paid negligible amount for their hard craftsmanship.
The Chamber of Commerce & industries, handicraft organisations, individuals knocked the door of government, thereby protesting to stop machine/power looms. The representations made by victims were examined by the government and accordingly the Director industries and commerce vide no. INDK/wool/2453-63 dated: 29-09-2000 banned the spinning of pashmina on machine. The order reads as “it is hereby ordered that General Managers of district industries centres shall not register any unit for machine spinning of pashmina. The order will have immediate effect.” Offset a meeting was held on 9th July 2014 under the Chairmanship of Mr. Khurshid Ahamd Ganie, IAS then Financial Commissioner I&C department and present Advisor to Hon”ble Governor J&K. “where It was decided till an appropriate legislation is enacted, Government may either issue an ordinance banning pashmina on Power looms or Dy. Commissioners may issue an order under section 144 of CRPC to ban use of pashmina on Power Looms in their respective jurisdictions.” Same was communicated to Deputy Commissioner Srinagar vide no. IND/DoH/146/2009-III. The Director Handloom in another letter vide no. DHD/P&S/POL/2014/503-504 dated: 23-06-2015 also recommended ban on the manufacture of traditional products of the state like Pashmina and Kani on power looms. Taking the cognizance and seriousness of the matter, vide no. DMS/Judp144-CrPcP1087-1092115 dated 28-08-2015, the District Magistrate Srinagar in exercise of powers vested by virtue of section 144 of Cr.P.C imposes restriction on manufacturing of Pashmina and Kani Products on power looms.
In the meantime several such orders were passed by the government but there was no implementation on ground. Practical part is that no thing has be done sofar. These are all govt officer correspondences between each other. No one is benefited. The two lakh poor artisans still continuing to suffer. Some of them are still in hope that government will pass audience and Legislatures will make an act to ban Power looms which they have been promised during every election for vote bank since last 2 decades. During research study it was observed that machine unit holders are big shots and make always there influence on government machinery. They are continuing manufacturing of in-genuine shawls in the name of Genuine Pashmina. To be continued next as Pashmina Artisans and their Success Stories – Part 2. Several experts, artisans and organisations were consulted during the case study including Mir Showkat, Mohd Shafi, Rouf Qurashi, Syed Tabasum Geelani, Imtiyaz Ali Zahidani.