No respite

The government has refused to pay compensation to artisans affected by the ban on fur trade saying they don’t know who the ‘real’ fur artisans are. Abdul Mohamin reports.

Officials destroying artificial fur items seized from shopkeepers in Srinagar.
Officials destroying artificial fur items seized from shopkeepers in Srinagar.

Fifty-year-old Hilal Ahmed is a fur artisan. He would make apparel, bags and other items of fur for a living. But all the stuff in his shop at Kanimazar, Nawakadal in downtown Srinagar is artificial ‘fur’. He had to switch over to the ‘new material’ after the government banned fur products.

The shop is full of children’s coats, hand bags, caps and other items of artificial fur. However, there is no sign of any fur in the shop. He sells most of these items to tourists.

Thirty years ago fur was fashionable and the trade flourishing. Hilal joined the trade quite early in his life and became a skilled artisan. He would earn handsomely then.

The government ban put hundreds of fur artisans out of work. Though the traders were compensated to some extent, the artisans were left out. The government says they don’t know who are the ‘real’ fur artisans.

To prove that he was a fur artisan, Hilal and another more than 1000 artisans had to sit in practical cum viva exam held by the Jammu and Kashmir Handicrafts department.

The result of the test, which was held on the High Court direction, would determine who qualifies for the “immediate relief” to be provided to the artisans hit by the ban. However, more than 27 artisans could not appear in the exam as they have passed away.

Many old artisans said that it was difficult to identify animal skins from photographs as their “eyesight had become now weak”.

The artisans have been fighting for compensation for a decade and in the past three years the case is being fought out in the courts.

The artisans affected by the ban are seeking a similar relief package from the wildlife department as given to manufacturers. But the wildlife department says they don’t have the details of the fur artisans. The wildlife department asked J&K Handicrafts Department to identify the artisans affected by the ban.
The head of union of fur artisans and its associate groups, Nazir Ahmad Darzi, said that government totally ignored them and that there was no provision for any relief or rehabilitation for the artisans who became unemployed.

The association had managed get an interim relief for fur artisans sanctioned after meeting the authorities and later going to courts. But the money was never disbursed as the authorities claim that the “real” fur artisans could not be identified. The government has earmarked Rs 2.2 crore for “immediate relief” to artisans.

The main furriers and traders were compensated after a court ordered the government to pay for the fur stocks. The 125000 articles surrendered by traders, estimated to be worth several million rupees, were later burnt by the wildlife department.

Another former fur trader Sajad Ahmad alleges that the government policy only favored the stockists. “The government ignored the workforce, who are the real sufferers,” he said.

According to Darzi the problem was that fur and leather registration was similar, even though the crafts differ a lot. “Many people were added to the (affected-by-the-ban) list as acquiring such registration was easy,” he said.

The artisans qualifying the practical-cum-viva test would be considered as fur artisans and compensated for being affected by the ban. The artisans don’t know how much each one of them will get as it depends on the number of people passing the test.

“Initially we thought that each of us will get Rs 50,000 but with many artisans applying for compensation it will much less,” Muhamamd Ashraf, a fur artisan, said.

In the past pelt were imported by the main furriers, who owned units where artisans would prepare coats, gloves, bags, caps and other items from it.
Muhamamd Altaf Qureshi, a manufacturer who left the trade since long said that many traders had a proper license to import skins of different animals and the fur products were in demand in many countries.

“The products were handmade here and this gave these an edge over similar products made elsewhere,” Qureshi said. As India became a signatory of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) that added more animals to its endangered list every year the trade began to strangulate and ultimately ended.

“No one now retains any stocks, even though many animals like mink are not covered under this ban,” Queshi said.

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