Declining earnings push Kashmir’s handicrafts sector into red
Lack of corrective measures may cost us this ‘distinctive cultural identity’, experts warn
Srinagar: Handicrafts exports of Kashmir have nosedived to a two decade low of around Rs 600 crores. The sector is in red and if corrective measures are not taken, Kashmir’s existing “economic chaos” will aggravate further, and the Valley will lose an important feature of its distinctive cultural identity, stakeholders and experts warn.
Actual value of the export of Kashmir’s handmade goods in 2013-14 was Rs 1695.65 crores. Statistics from the Handicrafts and Handloom Department reveals that the activity of making the elegantly attractive objects and then selling to overseas buyers has fallen to a degree of worry.
The region could export artifacts worth Rs 635 crores only in the last 2020-21 fiscal. The figure is even below the previous ‘record low’ of the year 2004 when it sold the handcrafted goods worth Rs 642 crores in the international market.
The steep descend to the three digit figure is attributed to many an indigenous and exotic factors. Primary reasons being attributed are the events that unfolded in and after August 2019 in Kashmir – the abrogation of Article 370, which accorded special status to J&K, and the subsequent months-long communication blockade.
The unfavorable conditions of 2019 and the subsequent Covid-19 induced lockdowns have inflicted a severe “economic pain” on the people associated with the industry, say the experts.
The handicrafts sector has a huge potential for earning foreign exchange for India, say experts. Political instability, underdeveloped infrastructure, poor earnings and lack of direct marketing accessibility to craftsmen prevent the growth of this age-old activity, they say.
Handicrafts sector has traditionally been one of the major employment providers in Kashmir.
According to the 6th Economic Census report, J&K has 54,437 handicrafts establishments. More than one lakh workers are engaged in these establishments, with an average of 1.85 in each enterprise. There are also thousands of others involved in the input and output linkages of the sector.
Extremely low wages are forcing the artisans to switch over to other vocations, said Ghulam Mohammed, a shawl worker from Zadibal area of the downtown area of Srinagar. “Handicrafts have a huge employment prospect but lack of modernization and a low wage system prevents the youth from joining it,” he said.
Providing the skilled laborers straight entrance to the domestic and global market can instill fresh life into the terminally sick sector. The handicrafts have historically provided a succor to Kashmiris. It has acted as a natural proponent of its identity in the world, said Zafar Ahmad, an exporter.
Sheikh Ashiq Ahmad, president of the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) suggests vigorous involvement of youth at all levels including artisanship, manufacturing and export. He suggests creation of favorable external conditions, better connectivity and global promotion of the products.
But connectivity for international exposure is an issue lamented by all involved with the Kashmir handicrafts.
In November last, Srinagar airfield was declared as a major airport and later on declared custodian of import and export of goods. But only two international flights a week to Sharjah do not serve the purpose of the exporters, said a senior officer at the Handicrafts and Handloom Department.
He said a functional and centrally-located dry port where exporters could send their shipments directly to the worldwide destinations is still not materializing. Kashmiri businessmen have to send their goods to Delhi for availing international cargo carriage facilities, the officer said.
Farooq Amin, who owns a leading food processing enterprise, suggests diversification of the overseas selling of products. Food processed goods, cut flowers, packaged water and many other geographical identity tagged items can help come out of the existing depressing situation, he said.
Over the past couple of years, Kashmir is witnessing a significant tourist footprint from South East Asian countries like Malaysia, Korea and China. Direct flight operations to these countries from Srinagar can facilitate large visitor influx and also enhance handicrafts exports from Kashmir, experts say.
Rashid Paul is Associate Editor at Kashmir Images.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org