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.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Good and Bad News About State Artisans

The state government may succeed in denting the market for fake Kashmiri shawls. But what about the plight of talented artisans living on Rs. 100 a day in a society where 12th grade children of big shots are driving around in imported luxury cars? Two related stories

Govt Launches RFIT Brand Code for Handicrafts

Jammu: In stern measures to stop the sale of fake Kashmiri shawls the world over, the Jammu and Kashmir government has decided to use radio frequency identification tag (RFIT) to protect the state's handicraft.

“World famous Kashmiri shawls will be tagged through RFIT which will be a great step forward to protect Kashmiri handicrafts across the globe.

This will stop sale of fake Kashmiri shawls and other handicraft items,” a senior official of Handicrafts Department told a wire news agency.

Besides this, a testing laboratory is also coming up for world famous Pashmina shawls at a cost of Rs 4.44 crores, he said, adding that it will be establish in Nowshera area of Srinagar.

The Industries Ministry has been receiving frequent complaints not only from various parts of the country but also from across the world about sale of fake Kashmiri Pashmina shawls and other handicraft items in the market.

The state government has been successful in getting geographical indicator registration under Geographical Indicators of Area Act of India for world famous Kashmiri handicrafts items like Kashmiri Pashmina, Kani and Sozni shawls in order to provide protection to the Kashmiri handicrafts.

Applications seeking GI registration have been submitted for other handicrafts items like Papier Mache and Kashmiri Walnut wood items, he said, adding documentation has been completed for preparing an application for Khatambandh (wood carvings).

“Once GI registration is received for all these handicraft products, it will help to build up "brand Kashmir" in handicrafts in the state,” he said.

Handicrafts items fetch a good foreign exchange revenue to the Jammu and Kashmir and over five lakh persons are engaged in handicrafts and handloom sectors the state.

Jammu and Kashmir had exported handicraft items worth over Rs 500 crores in 2009-10, exported items worth Rs 705.50 crores in 2008-09 and worth Rs 1,200 crores in 2007-08.

Due to global recession which was triggered as a result of economic meltdown and selling of fake products, handicraft sector has been affected resulting in a decline in income through export of handicrafts during past three years.

“Apart from above measures, the state government is making all out efforts to check the sale of fake handicraft items, including Pashmina shawls and carpets,” he said.

For this purpose, the handicraft department is deputing quality control Inspectors and Supervisors to various places where the department conducts craft bazar, exhibitions, expose within and outside the state to monitor the quality of handicraft goods.

In order to promote handicrafts and handlooms, the government is running 653 training centres, including 553 in handicrafts sector and 100 in handloom sector, which trains around 7,000 artisans every year.

Plight of Artisans

The best reflection of a society comes through its art. It allows a person to understand a society beyond words. Kashmir for centuries has been associated with rich art and culture but for decades has been arrested in a steep decline of this legacy. The artists associated with handicrafts, literature and folk are poorest of the communities of this society.

Most of the paper machie, shawl and carpet weavers still earn less than Rs 100 a day for their tedious 14-hour labor. The artists associated with the folk have almost become non-existent and if found, their condition of living is dismal. Writers, poets, actors and painters are completely dependent on government agencies for appreciation and grants. There is no support and admiration for art from common masses. Knowledge of arts is a basic and necessary foundation to gauge the progressive thinking of any society. Unfortunately, Kashmiri people lack this practice. There are several reasons for this, but the fundamental one is the lack of awareness and a broad government support. There are few organizations in Kashmir who are trying their best to revive the literally culture of the State, but their scope and powers are limited.

The State has to work on many fronts to revive arts in Kashmir. First and foremost should be safeguarding the future of artists by creating schemes and welfare programs which will help them sustain a dignified living. Government has to take steps in addressing the discrimination artists face through vendors and primary buyers. All forms of arts have to be brought under corporate segment, which will bring artists under labor protection acts and will discourage bigotry. There has to be more auction houses to allow artists conduct private sales, sell works that they own and make vendor guarantees as has been done in many countries of Europe. For making Kashmiris buy local art government need to build incentive schemes for collectors and buyers, offering tax advantages making purchase tax deductible and making work of art to offset income tax. Such steps will greatly benefit both lower and high end markets and will boost the sales of works. There has to be massive education programs helping artist community along with interest free loans and other financial schemes. Government has to institutionalize basic Kashmiri crafts and arts. They have to stop limiting the efforts only to certain groups and allow a massive education drive informing people about the importance of art and its essence in a society.

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