Pune leads the way for these Kashmiri artisans
On Tuesday, Bhalchandra Kadu’s copper workshop in the lanes of Tambat Ali was buzzing with activity. The local artisans excitedly gathered around Aslam Bhatt and Imtiaz Kak, as the latter show their handmade copper artefacts. Kashmiri coppersmiths Aslam and Imtiaz reached Pune on Monday and will be here for the next few days. They have been brought down to the city under the initiative of Commitment to Kashmir, a programme that supports craftsmen of Kashmir by providing them guidance and mentorship in their respective fields. The team reached out to Studio Copper Pvt Ltd on Senapati Bapat Road and the latter connected Kadu with the artisans.
Aslam, 46, has been in the business since he was 12, a family owned workshop back home churns out intricate designs of copper artefacts every year. “We know how to work with copper, however we are learning how to enhance our products here. Finishing is one very important factor which we clearly lacked. Here, at the workshop in Pune we are seeing how we could easily reduce our making time and concentrate on quality and quantity at the same time,” said Aslam, who will be taking back important lessons of spinning, collapsable dye and other crucial techniques.
Echoing Aslam’s thoughts is Imtiaz, who has been assisting his elder brother back home. The changing market and upgradation of contemporary designs got him to look out for options. “We are very traditional in our making approach. Our designs have been the same since ages, now Kadu sir has shown us how we contemporarise our expertise and be urbane in our approach. He also showed us the difference in copper material, here they use 99 per cent, back home it is just 89 per cent. So the design and finishing of the end product will also differ,” added Imtiaz.
The two admit that this training will help them incorporate advanced technology, technique and new culture approach. “We won’t be copying what we see here. I have fit every method and technique in my head and will use it to our best potential. I am sure we will be able to see a 10-20 per cent rise in our sales once we bring in these changes,” said Aslam. Kadu, who by now has been patiently listening to what Aslam and Imitiaz have said quickly added, “They are brilliant craftsmen, but their methods are very slow. I am giving them tips and ways of reducing their making time. Time is money, once they learn to work within a few hours, automatically their product numbers will increase. Then they will be able to experiment more and have more value to their products.”
Shruti Mittal, Project Head, Commitment to Kashmir (CtoK) has been working on ensuring that artisans’ products each a marketable and best quality level. She said, “It is a six-seven month programme where we provide them a practical platform to enhance their skills. They know the art, however they ahem to be guided on factors such as utility, finishing and marketability. This year, we have two coppersmiths among the 25 other artisans who have been brought down to Pune.”
CtoK’s journey so far
During the initial years, CtoK supported only four artisans a year and at the end of three years, CtoK had totaled its direct outreach to 12 craft entrepreneurs and indirect outreach to 300 plus artisans across craft skills of the Valley. Shruti shared, “This has been not only of great economic value to the Valley in a time of flood and political unrest, but of psychological and social value as well. The CtoK initiatives in its short span, illustrated how an injection of small but appropriately directed financial assistance, coupled with professional expertise and guidance, kick started the process of economic and creative regeneration.”
Last year CtoK received a grant from Titan Company Ltd to enable it to widen the scale and spread of its programmes, supporting an additional 25 lead craft entrepreneurs across craft skills in the Valley who are wishing to take forward this heritage of Kashmir, but who are finding that existing programmes of support are not enabling them to make craft production a successful and profitable vocation. Shruti added, “And through backward linkages and the artisans they in turn employ, these leading entrepreneurs will reach out to more than 250 artisans over the next 12 months! This new project is also similar in idea which is to strengthen the primary beneficiary through innovative design and up-skilling of artisans who are wishing to set up their own businesses.”
Instability in the region, constant curfews and bandhs hinder the regular flow of the programme. Often either the CtoK project team or the designers appointed by CtoK are unable to reach the artisan workshops due to the violence experienced in the Valley. She added, “ Very often communication channels are shut down in the Valley as a result of the insurgency. Due to this, once again artisans are unable to communicate with designers and with buyers causing huge delays and very often leading to artisans incurring huge losses. Cold weather restricts movement during the severe winter months of December – February. Often the Srinagar – Jammu highway gets closed.”
Low morale of the people, is one of the most difficult things to work on. Over three decades of insurgency and turbulence as led to widespread disillusionment. In turn leading to the next generation abandoning their traditional skills. With hardly any other economic alternatives in the Valley, this has resulted in unemployment. This disillusionment and disengagement of the youth further breads anger resulting in violence. A vicious cycle is established.
This year, CtoK has taken one leather artisan and two ari cum tailoring artisans to Delhi to participate in two skill upgradation workshops with NIFT, Delhi. The first round of training in basics of garment as well as leather bag construction was conducted with the Fashion Design & Apparel Department and Leather Accessories Department respectively in September and November at NIFT Delhi. Currently the same three artisans are in Delhi undergoing the second phase of skill upgradation training on pattern making, finishing and trimming.
What is Commitment to Kashmir?
Why: The unrest that gripped the Kashmir Valley in 2009 and 2010, paralyses livelihoods of thousands of crafts persons with so few opportunities and guidance. Late LC Jain, former Member, Planning Commission and crafts visionary, some of his close colleagues and associates of the handicrafts sector have created this initiative and are working to execute his vision of motivating young people in the valley to take up crafts based entrepreneurship.
1. In July 2013, Arifa Jan, a young Kashmiri felt craftswoman, travelled to Kyrgyzstan, to interact with and learn from other felters in an international workshop. It was Arifa’s first trip abroad – one of many firsts for her in the last couple of years. In 2015, Arifa went to USA as a part of the U.S State Government’s International Visitors Leadership Programme. Enabled and facilitated by CtoK, Arifa Jan’s journey from struggling craftsperson to confident designer-entrepreneur with her own company, giving employment to 25 other Kashmiri craftspeople, a commensurate six-fold increase in sales and 200% increase in wages is one of several similar success stories facilitated by CtoK in its short history.
2. Jahangir Bhatt, a confident and enthusiastic craft entrepreneurstarted his enterprise three years back with 20 women in Kulgam District developing chain stitched products. With the design guidance provided by CtoKJehangirwas able to create a contemporary range of home furnishings andexpand the market from local to domestic for the traditional embroidery skill of chain stitch. The impact of this design led intervention has helped Jehangir to withstand the effects of demonetisation and GST and create regular income and sustained to the women artisans working with him.