Culture forms an essential, rock solid pedestal for every society on which stands the major beliefs and value systems guiding a particular civilization towards their respective meaningful ends. The same stands true for the Dogra Civilization as well, which has been reeling under intense crisis for far too long now. The cultural heritage and traditional motifs have been relegated to reach a level of all but insignificance. Neither do the masses care and nor the government. This has brought us quite closer to what I call an existential crisis, the very threat which can endanger our language in particular and culture in general. This rugged apathy towards Jammu region is perhaps the last straw that can break the camel’s back. Everything pertaining to Jammu is either ignored or bundled within the larger Kashmiri narrative which essentially undermines the existence of Jammu region and raises questions over the administrative functionaries who let it happen right under their noses.
Recently, the Kashmiri Saffron was granted a GI tag, thus including it within a gamut of items from Kashmir to get a such a place in a nationally recognized registry. Now, a question arises as to why a variety grown from Kashmir was chosen over the Kishtwari one (Kung/Lohit), especially when the latter is considered to be superior in quality, fragrance and usefulness than the one found in Kashmir. It’s seriously bewildering that except for one, all the GI Tags from Jammu and Kashmir are from the Kashmir Valley. The one exception is of Basmati rice of Jammu belt but that too has been included in the registry in a non-exclusive manner along with the rice grown in Himachal Pradesh, Punjab Haryana, Delhi and western UP. This has been another major issue and, a rather crippling one for the people of Jammu region just because of the plain fact that by such insidious inclusions the culture and heritage of Jammu region is being ignored, scuttled and being pushed to the wall. This has also led to the development of false consciousness among other Indians vis-a-vis J and K as they have been led to believe that everything emanating and originating from Jammu and Kashmir is having an overbearing Kashmiri character, which, of course, comes as a blatant posturing to promote a common overarching agenda of a monolithic Kashmiri hegemony.
Let’s understand this by taking an example of Basohli Pashmina. Once, the Basohli Pashmina was as famous as the one coming from Kashmir. However, lately, this industry witnessed ‘apartheid’ by the Kashmir centric governments. As narrated by Shiv Kumar Padha, this led to the mass scale unemployment among the man power involved in the manufacturing of Pashmina Shawls at Basohli as the successive governments of this state stopped the supply of the raw Pashmina to the Pashmina industry at Basohli. He further explains that 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 Pradesh at high rates. This highhandedness by the Kashmir centric governments have ruined the household based Basohli industries, majority of whom were having hand to mouth existence.
Sadly, this is not an isolated case, the successive apathy of the state apparatus has rendered other native industries of Jammu to go into packing. For instance, the Calico Printing of Samba, which gave the town a special moniker as ‘Shitawala Shehr’, has been ignored and today, only a handful of people are associated with this craft. Though some attempts have been undertaken lately viz to reskill people, provide quality wooden blocks but most of these efforts are but half hearted. This rueful treatment meted out to Jammu based skilled enterprises which are unique in their content, style and character have made us ponder about the inherent priorities of the erstwhile state government.
It’s therefore, necessary that we reclaim our heritage and further our efforts to reinvigorate it in a sustainable manner. This shall happen only when an enabling environment is provided by the government to all the stakeholders involved. Hence, providing GI Tags should be the very first effort in the reclamation of our material culture in order to provide them a legal protection while granting them a geographical specificity underlining their quality and authenticity.
For instance, the Pahari Paintings of Basohli, Chickri Woodcraft of Rajouri, Jeera of Padar, Rajma of Marwah/Bhaderwah, Kalari Cheese of Udhampur, Binna making craft of Kishtwar, Jammu Phulkari ,Basohli Rumals, Desi Barfi of Thandi Khui etc deserve protection under such a registry. Not only this shall allow our local producers to expand their reach but also promote the Jammu region at the national horizon, thus establishing itself as an independent centre of craft and trade, different from Kashmir. Apart from that, it can also boost tourism, stabilize prices, streamline supply chains and lead to the preservation of the traditional knowledge and expertise.
Politically also, this shall pass a symbolic message of Jammu being an equal partner in this UT, which otherwise is not true at all. The Kashmir’s apparent dominance has already made the crafts of Jammu to vanish in the thin air, but this can’t go on till eternity. Jammu, therefore, must rise to the occasion and demand for the inclusion of its heritage in this registry. Not too long ago, JKNC’s Provincial President Davinder Singh Rana raised a pitch for including some products from Jammu into GI Registry but such an isolated attempt hasn’t ruffled many feathers .
If one has to really work in this direction, then all the political functionaries and stakeholders from Jammu must come on a common platform, devoid of any political shenanigans. Ladakh has already provided the leaders of Jammu with a template to replicate upon. If Ladakh can do it for the safety of its culture and language, Jammu too can, if only a mature and sophisticated political consensus is evolved. Unmindful of what they’ve lost, Jammu civil society, in particular and the residents, in general have also not been proactive in their demands. Hence, to bring back the lost sheen and vibrancy to our culture, it’s essential that a unanimous demand is raised from Jammu to revive its stultified industries, empower its degenerate masses and develop a unique identity.