Kashmiri artisans are Making in India, can we help rebuild their lives?

This Independence day, get to know the story of Kashmiri artisans and their dreams.



This section on Ethical Fashion is made possible with the support of Bhu:Sattva


 

The Kashmir floods of 2014 caused widespread devastation, with effects felt even today. Kashmir’s artisans are amongst the worst affected.

65 year old Bashir Ahmad Bhat stands in his weaving centre, surveying the room. The 2014 floods in Kashmir have completely destroyed the centre, washing away precious material and destroying machinery. Silk yarn, which are worth at least Rs. 4000 a kilo, have been ruined. He tells us, “You can still see the water in the factory.” Remnants of the devastation keep the nightmares of the floods fresh for Bashir and several other artisans like him across Kashmir.

Bashir Ahmad

Their only source of livelihood:

Bashir excels at Khatan cashmere work, and he is dependent on his semi automatic loom for his livelihood. His family consists of him and his three children – two daughters and a son. While one daughter teaches in a school, his other daughter and his son help him in his business with weaving and embroidering. Bashir is just one of several craftsmen in Kashmir employed in this field.

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30% of Kashmir’s economy is dependent on art. In most villages, the residents are employed in agriculture and art. Their speciality lies in weaving shawls and carpets, with each piece showcasing a unique form of handwork. The State has a rich history of art, and the inhabitants are proud to show their culture.

Handicrafts are an important source of occupation for the people of Kashmir. While some are occupied in the agricultural sector, seasonal changes and harsh winters make it difficult for it to be a full time occupation. Hence, the crafts industry functions as a full-time source of occupation for most.

Carpet weaving, Tarik Ahmad and Shakila

Kashmir’s artisans produce handicrafts that set them apart from mass-manufactured products. Several pieces are completely hand-made; some carpets or shawls could take up to six months to complete, given the intricacy of the handwork. The handwork ranges from hookwork to embroidery, and each product employs a wide range of materials.

With a majority of the State’s population being dependent on the handicrafts industry for a livelihood, there is a high chance of exploitation at various levels. Most of them are paid just Rs. 150 a day for their work. And this is the story of most artisans in the state who are severely underpaid. An artisan who was employed in this field 65 years ago and earned Rs. 100 a day then, continues to earn the same amount today. The work they do is incredibly laborious – most of them start their day at 5 a.m. and end it at 7 p.m.

Farook Sheikh weaves carpet with brother Mohammad Rajab

Even the fabric and threads used are manually dyed. The Kashmir Dyeing Centre was set up in 1854. However, not much has changed since then. If we are making technological strides in leaps and bounds, it certainly isn’t reflected in the dyeing centre. Says Rashid Ahmad, the owner of the centre, “Everything is manual. Wool dyeing is done in the same way my ancestors used to dye wool.” The manual labour involved in creating the handicrafts is exhausting and often takes its toll on the artisans.

Dyeing Centre

However, very few employment opportunities exist in Kashmir outside of the handicrafts industry. Even an individual who has gained exceptional educational qualifications is most likely to end up making handicrafts. Ask any artisan today if they would want their children to take up this livelihood, and the answer is a resounding ‘no’. They want a better life for them, one where they may be paid more.

Aasiya

Of fair pay and fair trade practices:

In order to help our artisans and to help break the vicious cycle of earning only the bare minimum, J.K. Handloom Fabrics stepped in. Its aim is to focus on design development and marketing the finished products to the right customers through the right channels. By allowing customers to buy directly from the artisans, it creates livelihood opportunities for them. It ensures that only fair trade practices are followed.

The Ants Craft Trust helps artisans from Kashmir by retailing their finished products at its store in Bangalore. They place orders for the products through J.K. Handloom Fabrics. The Trust visited the artisans in Kashmir, in order to ensure fair trade practices were in place and were being followed.

Lend a helping hand:

The floods of 2014 left Kashmir reeling from the shock. Leaving widespread destruction in its wake, the floods washed away many raw materials and damaged machinery which the artisans used to earn their livelihood. Bashir is one such example. His centre can no longer keep rainwater out, as the floods have caused irreparable damage; even the slightest bit of rain floods the loom centre. He has lost goods that took months, perhaps years, to create. The Ants Craft Trust stepped in to help the affected by placing a substantial amount of orders for shawls through JK Handloom Fabrics, which helped the artisans get back on their feet and resume their lives.

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However, despite the help given so far, Bashir and other artisans in Kashmir desperately need help with funds in order to keep up with the demand for their products, and to repair the damages caused by the floods. Much of the demand comes from international markets, such as the USA. They need financial support to help them keep their business ventures going, and to help procure new machinery to replace the obsolete models being used currently. With the impact of the floods still being felt in Kashmir, your contributions will help the artisans get back on their feet, and overcome the disaster. With a small loan from you, our artisans in Kashmir can continue weaving their magic, and make us proud to wear the Make in India label.

Watch the never-before told story of Kashmiris and their dreams.

Click here to support the artisans’ efforts.

All images courtesy Milaap.

The Sustainable Fashion Hub is a series that examines shifts in the the global fashion industry to more sustainable and ethical practices and processes, with a special focus on India. It explores what goes into creating a just and sustainable fashion value chain – from the creation of garments and lifestyle accessories to making them available to consumers. All content on the hub is produced with 100% editorial independence by The Alternative. 

The Hub is supported by logo, India’s first certified organic designer apparel brand in India. With products that are directly sourced from organic cotton farmers at fair trade terms. Bhu:Sattva® uses natural colours, vegetable and herb dyes and goes further to work on reviving various forms of traditional weaving and handloom. Information on its products and processes can be found at http://www.bhusattva.com

 


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