Fading Pashmina Industry of Basohli

Shiv Kumar Padha
It is a universal truth that history repeats itself. If we compare the fate of the muslin cloth (Dhaka ki malmal) of Dhaka with that of the pashmina industry of Basohli we find similarity in both of them to the maximum extent.
While East India Company completely destroyed the muslin cloth industry of Dhaka (Dhaka ki malmal) in 1817 during the English regime, the elected Jammu and Kashmir Government spared no efforts in demolishing the pashmina Industry of Basohli in 21 st century. The East India Company made it compulsory for the peasants, farmers and weavers of Dhaka (Bengal) to produce the raw material only and not to prepare anything from that, whereas the Kashmir centric Government of the state stopped the supply of the raw pashmina to the pashmina industry across the tunnel resulting into the mass scale unemployment among the man power involved in the process of manufacturing pashmina shawls at Basohl. The State Government procures the pashmina wool from Kargil and supplies the same to the Kashmir based pashmina units neglecting the units at Basohli.
Among the winter wears of the women folk in north India suit and shawl or sari and shawl combination is commonly seen in day to day life, but during some party or celebration every woman tries to impress the other members of her ilk by dressing herself in branded outfits with pashmina shawl on her shoulder. Their are number of shawls available in the market like shawls from Kulu, Assam, Sholapur, Pujab, Ladakh and pashmina shawls from Kashmir and Basohli .
Throughout India, Kashmir and Basohli (in Jammu Province) are the only places where pashmina shawls are manufactured on the looms and has become the cottage industry of these places. Pashmina shawls are available in cream tosha (semi black) and camel color shades. Rest, the consumer can get them dyed in any color of his choice. Pashmina wool has got a unique property as it generates work not for one hand but for a number of people, because it passes through many hands before it is finally converted into shawl. There are shawls both for ladies and gents with different dimensions. The pashmina shawls are costly as compared to the other shawls because these shawls are prepared from the wool of a rarely available species of goats which are reared on high altitudes. Pashmina wool is extracted from a goat named as Kail goat which is found in Lahaul spiti, Kulu, Kailang and Kinnore of Himahal Pardesh and at Leh in J&K. Besides pashmina, shahtoosh is also costly wool obtained from a rare species of an antelope which yields hardly 500 gms wool, that is why the shahtoosh shawls are very costly which range from Rs.50000/- to 1 lac as compared to the pashmina ranging from the cheapest for Rs.5000/- to the costliest embroidered costing 50000/.
Jammu and Kashmir governments have been supplying raw pashmina wool of good quality to the Kashmiri units from the government depots at subsidized rates, whereas the units in Basohli (Jammu province) are compelled to purchase second rate pashmina from the open markets of Himachal Pardesh at high rates. The house wives take home assignments of raw pashmina to prepare yarn on the spinning wheel at their homes at leisure times. They get good return of their labour which helps them manage their domestic expenditure.
It is interesting to know that this pashmina wool passes through many skilled hands before it becoms a shawl .First of all the hair are separated from the wool by the ladies. Secondly the sorted wool is combed and converted into small soft plugs for spinning on the spinning wheel (Charkha). The wool plugs are then treated with the rice flour locally called ‘chalita’ to increase its tensile strength so that the spinners can obtain as long yarn as they can .The spun yarn is doubled and twisted on the charkha to increase its strength. Finally the yarn is spread in accordance with the requirement of the dimension and mounted on the loom where the expert weavers prepare beautiful shawls. The fresh prepared shawl is very rough which is softened by plucking its surface by a forceps like instrument called ‘mochna’. It is finally washed and ironed on a special cylindrical rolling iron rod . It is only at Basohli that even an inferior quality pashmina is converted into the superior one by the skilled hands.
There are hundreds of Pashmina units in Basohli preparing pashmina shawls and giving a challenge to their Kashmiri counterparts who are working under the patronage of the Kashmir government. The deliberate withholding the supply of raw pashmina wool to Basohli cottage industry from Kargil has affected adversely not only the pashmina industry of Basohli but it has rendered many people jobless.The state government arranges market for Kashmiri products in the country and even abroad. The Kashmir pashmina units are insured and the loans are advanced to the unit holders at subsidized rates, on the contrary the cottage industry of Basohli craves for a gram of superior quality pashmina from the markets in their own state. Basohli unit holders search market for their products themselves where they are compelled to sell their pashmina products at throw away prices.Basohli unit holders manage the loans for the survival of their units at very high rates because there is no such agency which can sponsor for loans under subsidy scheme. It explicitly means that the Kashmir centered state government is hell bent to eliminate their rival from Jammu and Kashmir map so that the monopoly of Kashmiri shawls can be maintained in the country.
It is on the national agenda of the country to promote, encourage and utilize the human skills for increasing the production in the country. The state government should play its role to revive the pashmina industry of Basohli and save it from being sacrificed at the altar of envy and discrimination. It is therefore expected from the Jammu and Kashmir government to,
-treat Basohli Pashmina industry at par with that of Kahmir
-supply raw pashmina, of good quality to Basohli units at the rate which the Kashmiri counterparts get.
-advance loans at subsidized rates.
-provide market for selling the shawls at the reasonable rates.
– open sale depot of pashmina wool at Basohli to facilitate the local units.
– Establish pashmina research centre at Basohli.
– For marketing pl. ensure quality control check up.
– fix brand for the Basohli products of pashmina.
– pashmina cluster be made where the weavers can weave according to the demand of the customer.
– Dying and embroidery experts be made available to the units so that they can cater to the liking and taste of the rich customers.
Otherwise there will be no difference left between East India company which vanished ‘Dhaka kiMulmal’ from the land in 1817 and the elected democratic governments of Jammu and Kasmir which seem committed vanishing the Basohli pashmina industry once for all.