Saumya Verma Sundan
“In Jhelum’s windings, or in ‘tree of life’:
Such blended colours artists’ palettes ape
Closer than weaver’s shuttle plying strife.
This art is lost! The spirit of this age
In love’s laborious crafts will not engage.”
~ Mrs. Percy Brown, Chenar Leaves: Poems of Kashmir, London.
According to popular belief, Zain-ul-Abidin, a prince of Kashmir in the fifteenth century, founded the Kashmir Pashmina business by bringing weavers from Turkistan. Although woollen shawls were described in writings between the third century BC and the eleventh century AD, the first precise references to Kashmiri handicraft did not appear until the sixteenth century (Singh, 2016). The shawl trade is thought to have been resurrected by the Iranian saint and missionary Syed Ali Shah Hamdani, who travelled to Kashmir in the latter part of the 14th century (Rizvi and Ahmed, 2009). The Mughals developed a systematic shawl industry and organized the industry to create Pashmina shawls with distinctive artistry so that the monarch and their courtiers may wear them. The renowned empire-builder and Mughal emperor Akbar (1526-1605) also adopted a novel approach to shawl wearing. Akbar instituted the custom of wearing two shawls back-to-back so that the reverse side was hidden, according to ain-i-Akbari, a document of his period and life (Pathak, 2003). The “export of Pashmina wool and tea via Ladakh according to the ancient usage” was guaranteed by the 1842 treaty between Maharaja Gulab Singh and the Tibetan government. Until the 1960s, western Tibet across the border was the main source of Cashmere that reached Srinagar, the capital of Kashmir. However, relations with Tibet were deteriorating at that time. As a result, the trade in this priceless fiber underwent drastic modifications. Even while wool remained a key trade good, pashmina gained commercial importance. As a result, the barter system was diluted and the Changpa nomads were gradually incorporated into a market-driven society.
The artistic ability and creativity of the artists who make pashmina shawls are evident in their craftsmanship. The outer covering of the pashmina goat is hand-combed to produce the fine wool used to make pashmina shawls. The fine yarn created from the spun wool is subsequently fashioned into shawls and other fabrics. Pashmina shawl weaving is a difficult, labor-intensive procedure that demands a high level of skill and accuracy. The shawls are weaved using traditional handlooms, and in order to produce shawls of the greatest caliber, the weavers pay close attention to detail. Through the “Tahafuz” scheme, the Craft Development Institute CDI, Srinagar, facilitated the registration of Kashmir Pashmina in order to safeguard its inherent traditional value. “Kashmir Pashmina” was granted GI tag in the year 2008. This protection is meant to safeguard the interests of individuals working in the sector by preventing the distribution of subpar imitation goods sold as Kashmir Pashmina. The Geographical Indication (GI) Act registration of Kashmiri handicrafts, in particular Kashmir Pashmina, is a vital step towards preserving the inherited qualities of these crafts and a crucial measure to protect the interests of all stakeholders, most significantly the practitioners. The use of GI in Kashmir Pashmina would aid in the development of a unique brand identity and ensure that handcrafted pashmina products will be sold for a premium. Nevertheless, there are numerous difficulties with GI implementation in Kashmir Pashmina.
The worst affected are craftsmen who depend Pashmina handicrafts to make a living are the ones that suffer the most during the process. The lives of artisans are difficult in practice, with poor working conditions and incomes that can be as low as $1 per day or even less. It is not unexpected that experienced artisans are moving away from hard labour or street selling, and this situation is already posing a threat to Pashmina industry. Things have gotten worse due to the difficulties presented by low-quality imitations. Manufacturers frequently contend that the prices at which counterfeit goods are sold make it practically difficult for them to compete. Therefore, there is little choice except to reduce the wages of artisans and compromise on the quality of the raw materials.
The demand for handmade pashmina has decreased as a result of the mechanisation of the trade as low-cost imitation shawls have saturated the market. However, since the number of weavers has decreased, more shawls are being produced, which means that many items that are marketed as being handcrafted are actually being mass-produced in powerloom factories alongside hazardous chemicals. They are misrepresented as handcrafted ones in the international market, which has damaged the prestige of the centuries old “Kashmir Pashmina” brand. It is deplorable that there is no state statute that forbids the weaving of pashmina on powerlooms, says Younis Farooq, manager of the Pashmina Testing and Quality Certification Centre in Srinagar speaking on behalf of the Director of the Handicrafts. Shawls are one of the four protected classes mentioned in the Handicraft Quality Control Act of 1978, but the terminology for what should and shouldn’t be called pashmina is not defined. If an artisan has to exercise his legal right against the infringement of “Kashmir Pashmina” GI, he has to register under GI Act, 1999 as an authorized user. According Geographical indication Registry, there are only 789 Pashmina artisans registered as authorized user till date. Most of the pashmina craftsmen are struggling from the registration difficulties under GI Act, 1999 as they are still unaware of any such legal protection available. Even if some of them knows about GI registration they are reluctant to waste their time get registration done GI registry is situated in Chennai and cost of registration is not affordable.
To sum up, there is an urgent need to conduct reforms in the existing law by providing for a hassle-free GI registration process and introducing a “Computer mark” for “Kashmir Pashmina” GI to track its infringement. India’s ratification of Geneva Act and Lisbon Agreement will prove to be a landmark to bring up “Kashmir Pashmina” under the international standards. We require a post-GI mechanism were after registration, brand building of “Pashmina” is exercised. As a result, the producers will get new and more clients, improving their economic situation and enhancing their quality of life.
(The author is a Ph.D. (Law) Scholar at Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law, Punjab.)
Saumya Verma Sundan