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Suffering Pashmina Artisans – A Ray of Hope

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Hakim Mohammad Ilyas

The 2,000-crore Pashmina industry occupies a substantial place in economy of Kashmir. Around 2 lakh people are involved in this craft. Kashmir Pashmina has a prominent position in regard to export and foreign exchange earnings.
However, over the past two decades, machine made and mixed pashmina manufactured in and outside state and in country like China is being sold in the name of Kashmir Pashmina. Such practices are taking strong roots and have proved detrimental for the reputation of this craft and livelihood of 2 lakh artisans at stake.
Facts and figures indicate that Kashmir handicrafts face intense competition from machine made look-alike and imitations that flooded the domestic and international markets. The pashmina material is very delicate and is considered too fragile for the force of power loom. It is only possible when 40% to 50% nylon is mixed with Pashmina fibre which strengthens the thread. After weaving it is put in to 22% hydrochloric acid (HCL) which dissolves the nylon, after which it is treated with softeners to give it a perfect pashmina look.
In order to preserve the centuries old art of spinning and weaving of genuine pashmina fabric and to maintain international standard, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) has established a quality mark for genuine Pashmina known as Geographical Indication mark (GI).
GI is a name or sign used on certain unique products that correspond to a specific geographical location or origin (e.g. a town, region, or country). The use of a Geographical Indication may act as a certification that the product possesses certain unique qualities not found elsewhere and is made according to traditional methods.
Hence the GI Act was passed as a part of exercise to save the indigenous art and craft of the area in compliance to Article 22 of TRIPS (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights)
Eventually Craft development Institute Srinagar Kashmir came up with nanotechnology based testing laboratory which has helped to identify real Pashmina. The institute has established Pashmina Testing and Quality Certification Centre (PTQCC) wherein each handmade craft is tested and fixed with a unique label,that certifies the genuineness and authenticity of the handicraft product.
The label contains both overt and covert information as mandated by the GI registration. “It confirms that the wool is from Ladakh’s Pashmina goat (Capra Hircus); its fibres are less than 16 micron in thickness; it is hand-spun and hand-woven. It also contains information about the artisan who has woven it along with his contact details.
The move has aroused a ray of hope in artisans, and most of them prefer to sell certified products. Despite having a geographical indications (GI) tag, fake and machine-made shawls are abundance in the market. There isn’t enough awareness about this technology among the masses.
Nevertheless Government has not taken any strong initiative of marking of genuine Pashmina. It badly lacks awareness among the masses who are customers of Pashmina and are fooled to buy fake fabric in name and cost of genuine Pashmina. The customer base needs awareness about GI marking like it’s done for gold hallmarking and genuineness certification of diamonds. Government and handicraft organisations should launch an extensive advertising campaign (print and electronic media) at national and international level in this regard. Without proper awareness customers will continue to be cheated with fake fabric and real results of GI marking Initiative will be forfeited.
Ehsaas International a social organisation in association with Zakat foundation of India led by Dr. Syed Zafar Mahmod (former OSD to Prime Minister of India) took an initiative to rehabilitate the Pashmina craft and its artisans.
In first Phase 120 artisans (spinners/weaver) were taken on board by providing them raw material to manufacture genuine pashmina that can be GI marked. Further the same product is offered to customers for sale via an e-commerce website thereby giving market to their finished products worldwide and distribute the earned profit to artisans providing them their rightful remunerations that they deserve.
This Project will be a model of Entrepreneurial Philanthropy aimed at an effort to revive the economy and uplift the poor artisans. Ehsaas has come out with e-commerce website www.shop.ehsaasinternational.com to start up initiative with the aim to revive the century old craft and rehabilitate the craftsmen.
This will rehabilitate the art and the artisans who are living in drudgery and pity by being paid peanuts for the craft they create. It will also help to bring genuine handmade, world’s most luxurious, Geographical Indication (GI) labelled ‘Kashmir Pashmina’, fabric and its products into the international market without any middleman-ship.

(The writer can be reached at hakimmilyas@gmail.com)

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