(Mr. Mohammad Shafi Ayaz, 47, was born in Anantnag, and continues to live in the same town. He studied in various state schools, colleges and universities. He has completed his MBA, and is a Certified Associate of the Indian Institute of Bankers(CAIIB), and is working on a doctorate thesis on “Non Performing Assets in Indian Banks." He is a banker and presently Director of the Jammu & Kashmir Bank Rural Self Employment Institute (JKBRESTI), Kulgam. Mr. Ayaz has three publications - two in Urdu, one comprising of fictions/short stories titled as “Dard-i-Pinhan” (Hidden Pain), and the third comprising of poetry titled as “Talash-i-Sahar”(In Search of Dawn). He has also published another short book in “Interest Free Banking.” He writes on various topics in the Daily Kashmir Images, Weekly Shuhab and Weekly Sabzar. Earlier he contributed articles to two leading Urdu dailies of the Valley - ‘Aftab’ and ‘Srinagar Times’.)
A Tragic End to a Glorious History
Kashmir valley was not only known for its natural beauty, pleasant atmosphere, saffron, apple and silk but also for its handicrafts. Machines and technology based industries in Kashmir are hardly 50 years old as after agriculture; the handicrafts were the main profession and source of living for the people here for centuries together.
Some of these handicrafts are said to be 5000 years old while as others have either been introduced or promoted during the period of Sultan-i-Kashmir, Zain-ul-Abdin Budshah. Also some of the handicrafts were introduced by the famous Islamic Scholar Hazrat Amir Kabeer, Mir Syed Ali Hamdani (R.A).
Some well known traditional industries or handicrafts of Kashmir are Paper Machie, Tilla (Embroidery), Chain Stich, Gabba and Namda Sazi, Kani Shawl, Wood Carving, Willow Work, Pottery, Kangri weaving and Wague or Patej (grass mats) weaving. Although the population of the State and Valley increased as a natural phenomenon and accordingly the graph of persons involved in various professions including government jobs, agriculture activities, trade and industries has increased. Unfortunately the number of persons involved in handicraft activities has decreased drastically.
As per records, the number of artisans has decreased from 7.00 lakhs to 1.00 lakh. The trend surely seeks introspection as the decreasing number of people in this sector poses threat to many good handicraft industries in the valley.
Wague or Patej are the traditional Kashmiri mats woven out of dry grass and were used as floor furnishing in Kashmir for centuries. There was a great demand for them as this kind of furnishing would keep the rooms warm during winters. This mat weaving was a common profession of people in villages and particularly among Dal Lake dwellers. With the latest machine made woolen and warm matting this traditional work received a serious setback. People now prefer to use the latest well designed machine made furnishing for their homes and as such the demand for Wague or Patej has declined greatly and most of the persons who were dealing with this activity have changed their profession.
Embroidery which was once patronized by rulers in Kashmir is also facing the same fate. The artists who, by hand, embellished different designs of maple, lotus , stars etc on shawls and Pherans (a winter robe for Kashmiri women) is very hard as the same is done with needle and hand. Now the Tilla (embroidery) is done by machines which consume less time and is cheap. The traditional handmade Tilla embroidery is ofcourse costly and time consuming but is unique in its quality and beauty. People nowadays prefer machine embroidery and moreover, the women folk of Kashmir now use such cloths only on special occasions.
The changing scenario, therefore, is posing a great threat to this famous handicraft in Kashmir. It is observed that only a few of people continue this activity while as the there are no newcomers into this trade. The machine made embroidery work is generally done by non- Kashmiri artists.
Shawl weaving is another traditional industry of Kashmir as in the beginning of 19th century this trade was boosted by the fame and success of its special brand ‘Kani Shawl’ which was preferred by people across the countries. These shawls are very effective in keeping the inhabitants of the cold region of the country in warm comfort.
But the success story was to end in a bitter way as, It is an admitted fact, cheap and low quality replica shawls are purchased by a great number of people from Amritsar and are sold throughout country on high rates by claiming them to be the real Kashmiri Shawls. This sort of practice has earned a bad name and reputation for this industry and people outside State hesitate to purchase Kashmiri Shawls anymore.
Similar to many other fine arts, the art of willow work has existed here from the times immemorial. Willow a local produce used to make charmingly quaint objects ranging from shopping baskets and lamp shades to tables and chairs. The most common willow product in Kashmir has always been ‘Kangri’ the handmade fire pot used by almost all Kashmiris during the winter season. With the introduction of new plastic or metallic well decorated furniture, the demand for willow furniture has decreased significantly. The common use of Gas and Electric Heaters and Blankets has also affected production and patronage of Kangri.
Likewise, Pottery in Kashmir too suffered the onslaught of modernity and seems at the verge of extinction. What once constituted a basic and vital part of Kashmiri kitchenware is now breathing its last breath in the shine of the modern metal utensils and plastic items. Traditional pottery bowl for Kangri, Tandoor, some musical instruments like “Nout” & ‘Tanbhakhnaar’, flower pots etc were some of the exquisite features of this trade.
When we talk about un-employment, joblessness, sound economy, mobilization of state resources and utilization of available man power in gainful activities, diminishing local traditions only add salt to the injury. What could have proved to be a strong viable option for upbringing the standards of life in Kashmir and carving out employment for the unemployed, has been successfully ignored and eradicated from the scene. For achieving self sustainability no society can afford to sideline the existing economic trends embedded in tradition. We better start exploring and exploiting the tradition for the sake of our own success.
Though much has been said about the apathy of the state government in this regard, the two tables clear the picture of Government efforts for promoting the handicraft/ handloom sector in the state.
Implementation of schemes under Handicraft Sector (Amt. in lakhs)
Year Target Accounts Target Amount Achievement
Amount Achievement %age
2002-03 6106 2986.03 731 278.40 9
2003-04 3169 1587.72 576 231.47 15
2004-05 9759 4181.62 775 313.69 8
2005-06 7464 2937.47 599 282.80 23
2006-07 3090 1498.20 526 271.33 18
2007-08 3471 1575.63 817 6432.85 27
2008-09 3516 1928.72 931 531.37 28
2009-10 3514 2097.09 912 486.37 23
The percentage achievement under Handicraft sector is at an average of 19 during last eight years.
Implementation of Schemes under Handloom Sector (Amt. in lakhs)
Year Target Accounts Target Amount Achievement
Amount Achievement %age
2002-03 4655 7131.81 292 120.93 2
2003-04 2342 1532.24 200 78.91 5
2004-05 1861 1295.45 194 90.08 7
2005-06 1517 1013.24 126 64.23 6
2006-07 1035 691.19 118 60.64 9
2007-08 1102 779.90 200 102.61 13
2008-09 1251 905.30 123 92.44 10
2009-10 937 609.45 256 163.74 27
The percentage achievement is below 10 during the last eight years.