Introduction to Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

The Worsenng Condition of Kashmiri Artisans

A featured story and an editorial in the Rising Kashmir captures the dire state of the industry

Kashmir Wood craft artisans fighting odds for survival

Rashid Paul

Srinagar: Despite governments claim that Kashmir woodcraft industry is doing well, craftsmen, the facilitators of the trade are not transmitting the heritage craft to their off springs. Almost all 1000 wood carving artisans in Kashmir are discouraging their wards to take up the trade due to poor wages, absence of basic amenities like health coverage, bad working conditions and lack of social security benefits.

The artisans work round the year with no regular employment and have no social security benefits. They are not on any list, register or muster roll and make their contributions silently to the state’s domestic product by earning valuable foreign exchange.

More than hundred woodcarving centers are concentrated in Safakadal, Khanyar, Nawakadal, Noorbagh and other localities of the old Srinagar city. Some 1000 artisans are carving out fabulous artifacts and contributing mutely to the wood carving industry that has an annual turn over of Rs 100 crores.

However, none of the artisans is ready to pass on the trait to their offspring.

“One can not meet ones basic life necessities in this profession, because of trifling wages, without the luxury of even an earned leave,” said Ali Mohammed an artisan working in wood cluster at Nawakadal. I don’t want my children to have the same penurious life where they shall have to struggle round the clock for meeting their two ends, he said.

“Many a times I was injured while chiseling the wood but wages were cut for the days I remained absent while recovering”, said Sanaullah, another artisan. I work for eight hours a day to earn Rs 200. I don’t have the right to a weekend holiday.

There is no access to compensation in the event of disability caused by accidents at work said Ali Mohammed. We do not know of any Employees State Insurance Scheme.
Most of the workers Rising Kashmir interacted said that there was no provision for first aid kits at the workplace.

None of the workers knew of the Factories Act that stipulates, for every 20 days of work, a worker is entitled to one day of paid leave.

Languishing in abysmal working conditions, the artisans yearned for a Central Provident Fund, to avoid helplessness in old age.

“There is no legislative protection, not even the guarantee of a minimum wages,” admitted a senior executive of the Kashmir Chamber of the Commerce and Industry.

We are suffering from different ailments mostly related to poor postures, besides respiratory and vision ailments.

However, the artisans were appreciative of their employers for providing interest free loans during adverse situations, as all the employers are the followers of Islam which prohibits lending money on interest.

The official rhetoric has worsened the condition of the artisans

The statement from the Minister for Industries and Commerce in the Legislative Council about the facilities available to artisans in the State sounds more of rhetoric than reality. The minister, while replying to a question said that the government provides registration to artisans through district handicraft offices located in all the districts.

The minister added that craftsmen are encouraged to form Self Help Groups and provided liberal finance through banking channels, provided health insurance under Rajiv Gandhi Shilpi Swasth Bima Yojna at subsidized premium rates. Life insurance is provided under the scheme of Janshree Bima Yojna to registered artisans. The minister also touched on skill development aspect, which luckily has also remained focus of many speeches the young Chief Minister has delivered at various meetings pertaining to handicrafts sector of the State.

The house was also informed about the skill upgradation facilities that are provided to artisans and marketing support and channels kept at the disposal of craftsmen in the form of exhibitions, expos and craft bazaars. The marketing support is enhanced by J&K Handicrafts Corporation that provides marketing facilities at both the national and internal level besides encouraging them for formation of co-operative societies. For centuries this sector has contributes substantially to the earnings of the State.

All this paints a rosy picture of the Kashmir’s artisan economy, but is it really so. Unfortunately for the minister and the poor artisans the answer is in negative. The production figures for the handicraft industry are already down for the current year against previous fiscal. Handicrafts worth Rs1614.59 crore were produced during the financial year 2007-08 against Rs 1100 crore for the year 2008-09. No doubt this has largely due to the recession that has hit the world’s major economies but more than that it has been the rhetorical approach adopted by the government in ameliorating the conditions of the artisan community of Kashmir.

The state government laid the foundation of International Trade Centre (ITC) at Pampore with much pomp and show and it stated that the centre will provide state of the art facility for holding national, international trade fairs, buyer seller meets and an interface with the internal business houses that are interested in Kashmir handicrafts. How much more time it will take to materialize no one within or outside the establishment can tell. Next about the life and non life policies that the poor artisans of Kashmir are entitled to also sounds a big joke.

It would be worthwhile if the government comes up with a study about the penetration of the policies within the artisan community. Poor artisans they even won’t be aware about the lingo of these schemes. The concept of financial support from banks too has failed as the craftsmen are unable to meet the EMI deadlines given their demand supply mismatch in goods they produce. Timely aid to artisans is the need. Let the government handle that first.

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