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Valley’s craftspersons in Kashmir get helping hand

NEW DELHI :  Hailing from troubled Baramullah district of Kashmir Valley, Zahida Amin comes from a traditional Kashmiri artisans’ family. Working for women empowerment, she had formed a group and trained over 30 women in traditional craft like Zari, Soz, and Crewel embroidery.
Then came along the way a little known non-governmental outfit known as Commitment to Kashmir (CtoK). It gave her a soft loan and helped her group market its products through Dastkar, a Delhi-based NGO which works nationally with crafts and craftspeople.
Like Zahida, Arifa Zan is another beneficiary of the CtoK, which is proving to be the friend, philosopher and guide for many crafts men and women, belonging to the valley.
One of the few girls to successfully graduate in Craft Management and Entrepreneurship from the Crafts Development Institute in Srinagar, Arifa’s diploma project was on innovations from traditional Numda rugs of Kashmir, made from felt wool.
With a CtoK loan, she started her own workshop with her innovative Numda designs becoming a huge hit at the Dastkar’s Nature Bazaar in Delhi, where she sold 80 percent of her durries. Arifa was later also selected by the Indian government for an international craft exhibition in Italy.
Working with an objective to provide multi-pronged help and support to traditional craftsmen and women from the Valley, CtoK was first conceived by the late L C Jain, an ex-Planning Commission member, during the 2011 and 2012 unrest that gripped the Valley, paralysing livelihoods of thousands of craftsperson.
“Kashmir has incredible skills and potential. Yet its young artisans are crippled by their social circumstances and lack of opportunity. CtoK tries to give them both the opportunity and the hands-on assistance in the field,” Laila Tyabji, one of the trustees of Commitment to Kashmir told PTI.
CtoK is organising an event here to exhibit its support to the cause and raise funds to help enterprising young craftsperson from the Valley. The project is being spearheaded by Dastkar.
The CtoK’s core group comprises Laila Tyabji of Dastkar, Manju Nirula and Gita Ram of the Crafts Council of India, Ritu Sethi of Craft Revival Trust, Gulshan Nanda, former Chairperson of Central Cottage Industries Emporium, besides family members of late L C Jain.
In Jammu and Kashmir, the project is supported by the Crafts Development Institute, Srinagar.
Ctok receives and examines applications and business plans of young Kashmiri craftsmen and women and select four or five of them for interest-free loans. It also conducts workshops, field visits and individual mentoring for selected applicants.
“Historically Kashmir has the entrepreneur spirit and art and craft is one sector which contributes majorly to the local economy barring tourism and other business. But due to migration of craftsmen and small traders from the Valley the entrepreneur spirit is on the diminishing path,” Prof Jatin Bhatt, a project mentor, told.
The organisation aims to enable young artisans and graduates of design institutes to eke out their livelihoods out of the handicrafts profession and create employment for other artisans in the valley.
“This project, in one way, is also helping the revival of some dying traditional art and craft of the region and helping the young generation to get out of the extreme trend of Bollywoodisation and westernisation, the current trend in the industry,” said Gitanjali Kashyap, one of the mentors and a fashion designer.
CtoK also assists the selected applicants with advice and assistance on identifying and sourcing new raw materials to costing, pricing and production planning, linking them to potential buyers, and design and product development geared to targeted markets.
“We are also helping them understand the market trend and the need of the consumer to understand how to cater to the market and sell their products at a better rate,” Bhatt said.
Like Zahida and Arifa, two other notable beneficiaries of CtoK venture is Muteen Bijoo and Manzoor, who have set up their own, fairly popular label, in traditional Pashmina weaving.
With a CtoK assistance, they have been able to establish a 12-loom Pashmina unit, with 13 full time weavers and secondary employment to seven other workers like clippers and dyers and never tire of thanking CtoK.
“CtoK also provided marketing aid by arranging for space in valued platforms and exhibitions to sell the products at the Dastkar exhibition,” Bijoo said.
Their designs have now secured a large order from an international brand and are in the process of starting their own upmarket retail outlet, as well as showcasing their new range here. (AGENCIES)

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