The handicrafts industry is one of the major industries of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The industry generates employment for lakhs of people throughout the state, in urban as well as rural areas.
The industry found favour in J&K State as the climatic conditions and the topography kept the people secluded and confined to their homes for a major part of a year. Today, the handicraft items contribute substantially to the export kitty of the State.
Carpet weaving is foremost among handicrafts in Kashmir. The industry was introduced to Kashmir by Akhun Rehnuma, a Kashmiri Muslim saint who went on a pilgrimage to Makkah in early 1600. On his way back he brought carpet weaving tools from Persia (Iran) and introduced the craft here.
The romantic beauty of Kashmir valley found reflection in the art and work of the Kashmiri carpet designer and weaver. As a result, designs from the valley retain their distinctive character and have become a rich part of the cultural heritage. Carpets from Kashmir, as a result, are well known throughout the world and have caught the attention of buyers throughout the world.
Today, carpet trade contributes more than half of the total value of handicraft exports from the valley. It is also estimated that at present around 100,000 people are associated with carpet industry majority of whom hail from rural areas.
But the industry has its share of problems. After a high boom, this industry suffered some setbacks as the number of artisans is declining with every passing day due to disproportionate economic returns to artisans, low social status, lack of proper infrastructure and forward linkages. Thus, the need of the hour is to do everything possible which could address these concerns. This necessitates proper government interventions.
The government has already taken necessary initiatives as far as technological part is concerned by establishing the Indian Institute of Carpet Technology (IICT), Srinagar which has done a commendable job in its short span of existence, in terms of Human Resource Development (HRD), Design Creation and Development (DCD), Research and Development (R&D) and Technical Services and Facilities to the Industry.
Few major achievements of the Institute are:-
Design and development of modern carpet loom
Establishment of Carpet Design Development Centre (CAD)
Carrying out technical research for introduction of locally available reeled mulberry silk for silk carpets
Setting up of raw material testing facility
Development of knowledge resource through establishment of a library enriched with books/magazine of international standing
Sample dyeing facilities.
In addition to this, the institute has started necessary research work justifying registration of Kashmiri Hand Knotted Silk Carpets under GI Act, standardization of the process of carpet washing and introduction of a one year Diploma in Carpet Technology and Entrepreneurship Development (DCTED) to develop technically trained entrepreneurs.
The institute is all set to bring about a systematic expansion of this cottage industry. For this purpose, the implementation and execution of various plans and programmes of Central and State Government including the Mega Carpet Cluster for Srinagar under Comprehensive Cluster Development Scheme and also setting up of four Carpet Production Centres with basic facilities in four districts of the Kashmir division are in pipeline. Such initiatives are expected to go a long way in the development of the centuries old carpet industry.
However, much more is required to be done on other fronts like creating backward and forward linkages as the marketing holds the key. Platforms and avenues need to be created in this regard. This will empower the artisans as they would have direct access to the ultimate buyers and customers. In addition to this, there is a need to provide soft loans to the artisans by integrating existing schemes of central and state governments so that a convergent approach is adopted to address the financial needs of the industry.
(The author is Director, Indian Institute of Carpet Technology , Srinagar)