Fake Kashmiri mussars (Omani headgear) have flooded the Sultanate’s apparel market, with traders saying the practice is hurting the interests of genuine dealers.
Traders dealing with Kashmiri handicrafts said they have been selling “genuine mussars”, made of Kashmiri Pashmina (a fine type of cashmere wool) for decades but the introduction of synthetic mussars has marred their business in the country.
“A piece of the fake cashmere mussar is being sold for mere OMR 2 to 5. The genuine handmade one is woven in Kashmir (India and Pakistan-administered) and costs around OMR 50 to 70. Only a trader or a smart customer can tell the difference between the two,” said Sartaj Ahmad, who trades in Kashmiri handicrafts at the busy Muttrah Souq.
Cashmere mussar is a rage among Omani men. Representatives of the Sultanate’s glorious cultural diversity, mussar turbans are part of the official Omani traditional dress. Many Omani men wear it for formal meetings and in offices.
A shawl, also made of fine cashmere wool, forms another essential part of Omani men’s wedding attire worn around the waist. The long strip of cloth acts as a holder for the Khanjar (Omani dagger).
But Kashmiri businessmen said this age old tradition is under threat due to the cheap replicas currently on sale. A Times of Oman (TOO) investigation also found that imitation mussars are being sold with the tag line “100% Cashmere” or “Pure Pashmina.”
Some products even have the image of a deer suggesting that the wool is drawn from the Kashmiri Himalayan antelope. In contrast, Pashmina is hand woven from the wool derived from the undercoat of high-elevation breeds of domestic goats found mainly in India-administered Kashmir and elsewhere in the Himalayan region.
“The irony is that some Kashmiri traders have also started selling fake or imitation cashmere mussars. Because they don’t want to argue with the customers over what’s real and what’s not. The clients are shown both. What we are saying is let the imitation mussars be sold with some other name. Calling it cashmere is a theft of the idea and skill that’s involved with weaving these delicate mussars and shawls,” said another Pashmina mussar trader, Ijaz Ahmad.
He said, “Also, if the fake one is passed as pure cashmere and sold for OMR70, imagine the profit involved. Not many clients are aware of the stuff involved in the making of mussars.”
Officials from the Public Authority for Consumer Protection (PACP), which protects consumer rights in the Sultanate, said the issue is related to intellectual property rights. “It’s related to intellectual property rights,” Omar Faisal Al-Jahadmi, deputy chairman at PACP said.
“This matter falls under the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, which is responsible for implementing all the procedures related to the laws of intellectual property and guaranteeing necessary protection for the stakeholders,” he stated. The Kashmiri traders also said they will soon approach the ministry to address their concerns.
Kashmiri Pashmina (cashmere) has a GI status, a kind of intellectual property awarded to products that have some unique characteristics traceable to a particular region. To protect customers from being duped with fakes or imitations, the government in J&K has recently adopted nanotechnology.
It involves embedding nano-particles with distinctive codes into the authentication labels ‘Kashmir Pashmina,’ which has geographical indications (GI) protection under the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights Agreement of the WTO.
The codes are readable only under infrared light. The counterfeit mussars don’t have such labels and hence can help a customer identify a pure cashmere shawl or mussar. Kashmiri traders are supposed to get their products “tagged” and “authenticated” and get their businesses GI-certified.
Not many of them have done it, Kashmiri traders conceded. “Unfortunately, not many of us have gone through this process. Most of the products from Kashmir are yet to get these nanoparticle tags. But the technology is expected to save our century’s old skill and no one will be swindled in the sale of bogus cashmere products,” a Kashmiri trader said.
(The news report appeared in Times of Oman. Baba Umar is a Kashmiri Journalist based in Muscat. He has previously worked with Tehelka and Al Jazeera.)