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“We are merely surviving”, says a Kashmiri Artisan

The pandemic has affected the main source of income of many Kashmiri artisans. Inventories are piling up and sales are almost absent.

Manu Kaushal

“We are merely surviving”, said Gulam Muhammad Changa, a small Kashmiri artisan. “My main source of income comes from making shawls. I am the sole breadwinner for a family of six”, he adds. Changa has been making handmade Kashmiri shawls and kaftans for the last two decades.

The pandemic has severely affected the small artisans and hawkers. “I have been working on my small piece of land to feed my family”, he adds. Changa has been able to earn marginal income from the land he owns. But not all small artisans own land, many have to work as labourers on other people’s land.

Indian Creation, a handicraft shop in Srinagar.

(Image Source: Shahnawaz Khan)

The exhibitions and trade fairs in which these handicrafts were mostly sold in, are no longer taking place because of the pandemic. “90 percent of our income depends on tourists and the rest 10% is from exhibitions and trade fairs,” says Shahnawaz Khan, owner of Indian Creation who sells Kashmiri Handicraft products in Srinagar.

“There are around 15,000 local feriwalas who travelled to various tourist spots to sell the products”, said Nawaz Ahemad Sheikh, another Kashmiri artisan and businessman who sells Kashmiri shawls and handicraft products. Before the pandemic, artisans would go to hotels, parks and houseboats to sell their products. “We have not even had sales of five percent of our products in the last eight months. I have taken a loan of Rs 80 lakhs for this business,” Sheikh added.

On December 27, 2019, a trade fair in Parade Ground, Dehradun.

(Image source: Shahnawaz Khan)

Since the situation is not getting any better, the businessmen and manufacturers are facing extreme difficulties in paying back their loan instalments. The RBI (Reserve Bank of India) had announced a moratorium period of three months for paying interest dues till May. Later on, it was extended until August 31, 2020. Sheikh added that the government has not provided them with any other redressals yet. When First Draft tried to contact the Directorate of Handicrafts Government of Jammu & Kashmir, they did not respond.

Many businesses in the art and handicraft industry are moving to an online medium amidst the pandemic. “Most of the artisans we have are illiterate and the internet services in Kashmir are very poor”, Khan mentions further. On August 5, 2019, the Government of India revoked Article 370 of the Constitution, stripping Jammu and Kashmir of its autonomy. Internet and communication services were shut down for almost six months. He also added that most of the customers prefer to see what they are purchasing as the handicrafts are expensive, thus restricting them even more.

Usually, the manufacturing of products takes place during the summer season. But this time, due to the pandemic, the production of handicrafts products could not take place because they were unable to procure raw materials. It has further led to a hindrance in producing finished goods, resulting in the retrenchment of artisans.

(Edited by Isha Chincholkar and Jasmine Singh)