State Government ‘Incentives‘ Prove a Failure : Pratibha Singh, in Manushi

At the inauguration of the 15-day Dastkari Haat Samiti Mela in Srinagar, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah announced that significant measures will be taken to support artisans across Kashmir. On paper, their monthly stipend has been increased from 100 rupees to 500 rupees; so has their loan facility, from 50,000 to one lakh rupees per unit. Abdullah said that artisans should now market their products directly, without the involvement of middlemen who secure a large portion of the profit. He called for a “symbiotic relationship” between artisans here and across India. “During the summers you can invite your counterparts from the rest of the country to earn with you here,” he said (as quoted in The Hindu, on September 5th, 2012). “They can reciprocate it by inviting you to their states in the winters for business.”

Chief Minister Omar Abdullah with Kashmiri wood carvers 
But Abdullah’s statements have evoked frustration among artisans. Much of their dissatisfaction is due to the short sightedness of these incentives, and the fact that they did not and still don’t trickle down to the grassroots. Two decades of conflict have had a negative impact on tourism and with that the inflow of potential customers. Most artisans here hold government-run agencies directly responsible for the failure of the very schemes they have formulated.

Some that we spoke to accused seniors in the Jammu & Kashmir Handicrafts Corporation (JKHC) in instances of nepotism. Though the sum awarded to the most outstanding artisan has been raised to 50,000 rupees, the decision is rarely conducted by fair means no matter how deserving an artisan is.

In 2004 the state government-framed “State Industrial Policy” declared the handicrafts sector a “thrust” area. As per this policy, units registered under the State Handicrafts Department are eligible to avail schemes/incentives aimed at generating better business. However, upcoming units have repeatedly been denied registration by the Industries Department, which oversees the Handicrafts Department. Artisans allege that the two departments have made a mockery of this policy, and that many have witnessed the long drawn procedure of registration turning into a wild goose chase.

Partly to blame is the lack of awareness amongst upcoming artisans about the incentives and the schemes introduced by the government. As a result, the next generation is now looking for more obviously-lucrative areas of work; their attitude towards this sector is shaped by its structural and financial loopholes. Muheet Mehraj, co-founder of Kashmir Box, an NGO working to eliminate the middleman in the handicrafts sector, told us that “in certain areas, including Srinagar and Anantnag, craftsmen earn no more than 100 rupees a day. On the contrary, an unskilled laborer would easily make 300 to 400 rupees a day”.

Mehraj’s assessment was further supported by G.Q. Wani (formerly the Director of JKHC). “Craft workers in the downtown areas of Srinagar (which were traditionally a hub for artisans) have almost disappeared,” Wani told us. “The state-run Craft Development Institute has not made much progress either towards spreading awareness amongst the masses regarding its skills and training programs for the artisans. Government has taken some steps but they are not sustainable or laudable.”

The labor-intensive nature of certain crafts (there is precious little technological intervention or improvisation) has initiated a shift to more popular goods that are easier to produce. For example, wood carving has suffered due to its labor- and time-intensive nature; the 14 percent tax imposed on wood carvers has pushed them to now look at other alternatives, like the sowing of bed spreads and tapestry, to sustain themselves. Similarly, the production of Namdas- and Waguv-carpets (popular floor carpets made by Kashmiri weavers) has also gone down. To top this, artisans have little or no access to training programs that would otherwise help them to switch over to other crafts as they struggle for their survival, especially in rural areas. Sarfaraz, an out-of-work wood carver said that the lack of relevant training has influenced not just the quantity, but the quality and “the essence” of Kashmiri handicrafts on the whole.

Recent protests held in Srinagar against street vendors who sell duplicate Kashmir Handicrafts at cheaper rates brought to light the issue of duplicate Kashmiri handicrafts, a majority of which are produced in Amritsar. “They (Amritsar’s craftsmen) are giving a bad name to our handicrafts industry, by selling shawls from Amritsar which not only inflicts loss to us but also defames the Kashmiri trademark”, shopkeeper Azad Naqvi told us. Sharing the same sentiment, Nadeem Siddiqui, who runs the Kashmir Artisans Club, felt that, “There is a need to strengthen the Handicrafts Quality Control Act [passed in 1978)] and adopt strict measures towards those who violate it… [along with] a comprehensive policy which grants insurance to the artisans [whose trade is made vulnerable by cheaper duplicates]”.

Observers emphasize the immediate need for measures, like the easing of the registration procedure, branding of Kashmiri handicrafts, direct access to the market for the artisans while eliminating the middleman, and easy access to financial support, so as to revive the handicrafts industry here; promotional efforts made by the centre and state governments aren’t enough. The restlessness being bred among unemployed young artisans reflects the overall restive nature in the state, so working on improving their market strategies and product development is crucial –  not just for the economy of Jammu & Kashmir (given its scope for high employment rates with low capital investment), but also maintaining a semblance of peace here. Neglecting this sector, say Kashmir’s artisans, would not only stifle their hopes of a secure future, it could have severe consequences for the Kashmiri society as whole.

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Author is currently interning at the Institute for Social Sciences, and is researching peace-building measures in Kashmir.

 

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Comments
  1. Rezan says:

    This man Omar Abdullah is such a weak useless person. He has destroyed the aims and aspirations of the Kashmiri Muslims. He is an obedient servant of the Delhi government and so rightly referred to as the ‘Delhi boy’. Frankly he should not be in office. This entire generation of Abdullahs appear to be the same. Weak,indecisive,uncertain living in a total state of procrastination.
    The eldest Abdullah was merely playing ding dong’ with not only the Indian government,but also with Pakistan and his own people. At first he said he wanted to join India temporarily till Kashmir is granted independence. He trusted India like someone trusts a cat not to eat a plate of fish placed before the animal. So naive and stupid was he that India had nothing but contempt for him. So much so that they fooled him all along. When he eventually got a little wise and began to ask questions they locked him up not once but thrice. When he was released he realized his folly of indecisiveness on the Kashmir issue and ran to Pakistan trying to atone for his mistakes and thinking that he could influence the then ruling Pakistani elite to mediate in the Kashmir issue. The Pakistani ruling elite just could not afford to trust him anymore and so chose to snub him. He returned to Kashmir a bruised and confused man in which state he eventually died leaving the whole Kashmir issue unresolved pushing it far deeper than ever into the abyss.

    The second Abdullah not having learned anything from the mistakes of his father was equally useless as he became a loyal servant of the Indian government who lost no time to gain a very strong foothold in the valley’s future promise of plebiscite or not. ‘This has nothing to do with us as this was Mr Nehru’s fault of making a promise for a plebiscite before the UN’ they said as if Nehru was just not at all an important leader of India!
    With the rise of fascist forces in India the decision to even discuss the Kashmir issue became an offence while the concern by lawful authorities and the Indian public of the presence of Indian troops virtually laying siege to the beautiful valley not to mention tortures,disappearances,rapes and ‘encounter killings’ were made taboo.

    The third Abdullah is such a laughing stock. The Indians have virtually got him in their grip. He speaks like an Indian Hindu and even thinks like an Indian Hindu regarding the Kashmir issue. The daily sufferings of the Muslims of Kashmir does not bother him. Their future does not bother him. In fact he does not even know what he has to do. Sometimes his comments are astonishing as they are more against the victims rather than the perpetrators of the crimes in Kashmir. He is willing to play fool just like his grandfather. He is frequently interviewed on Indian TV. He is given great importance and often flattered by the hosts who interview him. This makes him happy and makes his life complete as he has no other aim anyway.

    It is also difficult to understand the mind of the general Muslim population of Kashmir. What do they really want? Some are very bold and openly show their resentment against what they see as Indian occupation and oppression. Young lads stand before well armed Indian soldiers who do not hesitate to shoot them in cold blood for the crime of mere stone throwing.
    A strong political group headed by fiercely determined Muslim Kashmiris openly call for accession to Pakistan while exposing to the world the atrocities of the Indian Armed forces ,the terrorism of the para-military and the police against the stunned Muslims of Kashmir. But these are not usually represented in the media and are often put under house arrest or even jailed for ‘fomenting unrest’ in the ‘peaceful valley of Kashmir. International Human Rights organizations however are very cooperating in bringing the truth to the world but nothing much is done because as the world’s most powerful countries need India for their hidden agenda. Nothing is done while Pakistan is condemned by them at the slightest squeak.

    The general population is however under pressure and some often tilt knowingly or unknowingly to the Indian side of thinking owing to a helpless situation. There are some who just do not know what they want. There was one Kashmiri chap who was touring around the world trying to show his demand for independence of Kashmir. He said he did not mind joining China! Sometimes majority of the ‘Kashmiri’ Muslims are just not serious.
    What is totally incomprehensible is how despite being religiously and culturally Islamic they do not seem to have the expected brotherly feeling towards other Muslim peoples except for a very few who talk of accession to Pakistan. This is indeed worrying. Muslims living in the UK and Europe find this very confusing. Hope all Kashmiris are not like this. Guess they think of themselves only as ‘Kashmiris’ and Muslims next first owing to intense Indian pressure.

    The Hindus of Kashmir would of course naturally dream of being a part of India as India is a Hindu country. In fact they already feel they are Indians because of their religious and cultural commonality. This is understandable.
    No matter how much the Indian government tries to downplay the importance of islam in the Kashmiri Muslim society the reality will always triumph. They always keep insisting by saying:’ they are all Kashmiris’ or this is a ‘Kashmiri problem’ etc. No . This is a Muslim Kashmiri problem most of all. And if the Kashmiri Muslim really wants to seek independence its up to him. Take the inspiration from the revolution of Egypt namely ‘The Arab Spring’!

    Maybe the Kashmiri Muslim is just not good enough.

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