As the temperatures plunge in the capital, it is the perfect weather to bring out those beautifully woven shawls, and as I sit down to write this, I am also admiring the artistry on my shawl.
A while ago I spoke to an artisan from the valley whose family has been making these shawls and other hand-woven products for many generations now. Given the political situation in Kashmir, many of these artisans face problems both regarding the preservation and promotion of this art form and, also in marketing of their products.
An organisation called Commitment to Kashmir (CtoK) is working with local artisans to help them develop and overcome their unique challenges.
The organisation provides a holistic platform, which connects them with designers from other parts of the country, to give guidance and mentorship in upskilling their craft, using the latest technology, and also equip them with skills to market their products.
Shruti Mittal, Project Head, Commitment to Kashmir, speaks about what the organisation does. “Commitment to Kashmir is a charitable trust established in the year 2011 by Mr LC Jain, who was an economist and also part of the Planning Commission. This organisation intends to ensure that the traditional weavers remain committed to their craft and the organisations objective is to help them to that by providing them with the right mentorship.”
“After a seven-step screening process, CtoK has identified 25 artisans from almost 150 applications received from across the Valley, whom we have decided to mentor and assist. The process has been challenging and time-consuming, and it does take a lot to get these artisans to open up to us, but we are happy with the results we are seeing now,” says Shruti.
“Sometimes, owing to their situation and given the strong desperation to find a job, these artisans will tell you any story that they think will work. Hence, our job is that much more difficult, and we have to sift through all this to identify the artisans who are genuinely committed to the craft.”
We, at The Better India, spoke to one of the artisans who is a beneficiary of the programme. Tariq is a sozni embroidery artist, which is a technique that uses very fine thread work on pashmina. Tariq’s parents are artisans, and unfortunately for them, all their three sons are physically disabled and are paralysed from the waist down.
While Tariq also has this disability, he is exuberant and enthusiastic to learn and is intent on becoming a master of the craft.
His professionalism and attitude shine through, and everyone who has worked with him has a good word to say about him, and these very qualities have helped him to overcome his challenges.
“My father has been doing this since I can remember and this was our only source of income as well. We, all my brothers, completed our schooling and took to this profession,” he says. Tariq has four siblings, two brothers and two sisters and they are all associated with this art form in some manner or the other.
Tariq says that one of the most significant benefits of being associated with the organisation is the direct interaction with the customer. “Until now we were giving our products to middle-men or agents who would then sell the products at various exhibitions.”
“Now, we are able to meet the customers directly and the feedback we get from them has been invaluable for me and to improve my work further.”
Recounting one such experience, he says, “There was a customer from Bengaluru who came to my house to meet my family and me. That was a high point for me; they not only appreciated my work but also encouraged me to do better.”
“The mentorship I have got with CtoK has taken me places. In July this year, I got to attend an entrepreneurial workshop in which I learnt a lot about marketing my products. While earlier I was working and selling my products, with this organisation I have received a lot of exposure, and am now showcasing my products in various cities at the exhibitions that are organised there.”