State of Handicrafts in Kashmir : Low wages, machines push Pashmina artisans to wall

State of Handicrafts in Kashmir : Low wages, machines push Pashmina artisans to wall

Tauseef Ahmad

SRINAGAR, Aug 18: Low wages, increasing machinery is pushing Kashmiri Pashmina shawl making artisans to wall.

Before 1980, spinning yarn was found in every Kashmir’s household. The house wives would in part time use spinning wheels to make yarn for Pashmina shawls and earn their livelihood in a dignified manner.

The craft of making Pashmina shawls was introduced in Kashmir by the 15th Century ruler Zayn-ul-Abideen who brought highly-skilled craftsmen from Persia.

Women in Kashmir have been using Charkha (a traditional spinning wheel) for centuries to produce Pashmina fiber. ‘Yender’ as Charkha is known in Kashmiri has a high traditional and cultural importance in Kashmir. Its possession in households is still considered a blessing.

During Mughal rule, the Pashmina shawls became famous in Europe, and the shawl has become a statement of high fashion across the world ever since.

In central Kashmir’s Ganderbal district, 45-year-old Farooq Ahmad an artisan teaches around 40 girls in his center to weave Pashmina shawls.

Talking to Kashmir Despatch one among girls Toiba Rehman from Waliwar Ganderbal who learns spinning yarn and making Pashmina shawls from the last three months said that the girls in the valley could not afford to go for higher studies due to their poor economic conditions. “After completing my 12th examination I started spinning yarn and Pashmina shawl making.”

“There is some sort of a divine blessing in the money we earn from this craft. We could buy so many things with it,” Toiba said, adding, “And best of all is that it was all our own money. We didn’t need anyone’s permission to spend it. But now it is not like that. Even after one month of hardwork, you would be paid peanuts. That’s why my Charkha is lying in the attic. I have not touched it for years now,” observed the 34-year-old Shegufta from Ganderbal, while talking to Kashmir Despatch.

“In 1980 we would weave woolen bed sheets and earn Rs 100-150 in ten to fifteen days which was enough in those days to manage a living,” said Khatija, a 85 year old from Bandipora, while talking to Kashmir Despatch.

Another girl, Amina, said that the art of spinning was so important that it was regarded as a qualification for a girl to get married.

In Kashmir the art of Pashmina shawl weaving has historical legacy. “It is said that the art of spinning was introduced in Kashmir by Hazrat Mir Syed Ali Hamdani (RA), popularly known as “Shah Hamdaan”, for the economic uplift of Kashmiris. He is believed to have brought artisans from Iran to teach this art here,” said an artist Ghulam Rasool, in downtown Srinagar.

However, according to one estimate, women participation in shawl weaving has come down significantly. “It has impacted the processes involved in hand-made shawls such as sorting, dusting, dehairing, combing, spinning and finishing; all these were dominated by the female workforce.”

Artisans believe that introduction of machines in spinning yarn or making Shawls has compromised the quality of once world known Pashima shawls of Kashmir.

“Spinning on a traditional Kashmiri charkha allows longer threads of Pashmina wool with fine hair-like size, unlike machines, and adds to the softness and warmth of the product. Nowadays, machines have replaced the handmade Pashmina Shawls. The number of those associated with this art is decreasing day by day as they cannot fetch a dignified living from this art,” Aabida, a local girl added.

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