Willow Village

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Shalabugh village in central Kashmir has pioneered the craft of weaving the famous willow baskets. Due to a lack of proper marketing and distribution, the village craftsmen approach intermediaries to sell their products, BILAL HANDOO reports.

As even kilometer travel from the main Ganderbal town in central Kashmir takes one to the Shalabugh model village. This village is home to the willow artisans of Kashmir valley. Around 90 percent of the population of Shalabugh has been associated with the willow craft for nearly 50 years now.

Shalabugh village, which earned the status of ‘Model Village’ in 2002, is the largest producer of willow baskets in Kashmir. Nearly 5,000 people belonging to about 600 families of the village depend of willow works for earning a living. The willow products have an attractive face value and intricate designs which make them a hit not only in local markets but they are also exported to India and foreign countries. In Kashmir, the willow crafts are used in weddings and other occasions of festivity.

“It is not only the illiterates who weave willow. There are graduate youth are associated with the trade due to a large demand and supply,” says Bilal Khandey, a Kashmir University research scholar who lives in Shalabugh. He said the educated youth, who constitutes around 30 to 40 percent of village population, were compelled to involve themselves in weaving willow because of unemployment. “In absence of government jobs, the educated youth of the village are turning towards this craft in great numbers,” he added.

Apart from Haren and Shalabugh, villages like Gadora, Kujur, Kahan, Gogjigund, Fakirgund and Sindbal are involved in the manufacture of willow baskets. The raw material for the willow works is obtained after willow trees are cut in mid Oct-Nov. The trees are then put in a boiler and its skin is peeled off. After this, the peeled skin is put under sunlight for three days when it becomes ready for processing and manufacturing.

Once the products are finished, the people of Shalabugh village sell them in the adjoining village called Haren. “The villagers of Haren have well established market links in the Valley as well as in different states of India. We sell our products to the dealers of the village, who later sell them to the dealers in Kashmir, Delhi or in other states,” said Sonauallah Khandey, one of the oldest craftsmen of willow baskets in Shalabugh.

Khandey says the main beneficiaries of willow trade were those who didn’t know the basics of the craft. “The irony of the trade is that the dealers outside Kashmir call themselves chief craftsmen while we are not even appreciated,” he says. Due to a failure of the villagers to market their products, they are forced to sell them to middlemen. “Somehow we have failed to channelize our products by ourselves, which is the reason behind the meager profits we earn at the end,” he says.

There is another undesirable development taking place with willow craft in Shalabugh. In order to meet the growing requirement of raw material, the villagers are cultivating willow on agricultural lands. The people who hold agricultural land claim the practice of cultivating willow has decreased the yield of agricultural land. “Earlier, willow wasn’t grown on the land meant for agriculture. The large participation of unemployed youth and a sudden growth in demand has triggered this crisis,” says Ghulam Hassan, a farmer. He said there was abundant water lodged land in Shalabugh which could have been used for cultivating willow rather than destroying agricultural land. “But that step requires consent of authorities which the villagers have not sought yet,” Hassan says.

It is not clear how Haren pioneered the craft and how it was later learnt by other villages including Shalabugh. “It is not known how these people learnt this craft. In 1955, willow plantation was started in Haren. It reached our village in 1957,” said Sonauallah Khandey, who was a student of class 3 when the trade began in Shalabugh.

A story doing rounds in the village is that a westerner was impressed with his friend who was a resident of Haren village and, as a token of gift; he planted a willow tree in Haren. “I was witness to that development myself. That Englishman wanted to give renewable source of income to the people of Haren which he gave in the form of willow trees,” Sonauallah says.

Interestingly, Haren had made it mandatory for its villagers that this newly acquired craft shouldn’t be passed on to other adjoining villages. They feared that once it was learnt by others, it will impact their trade. But the plan to shield the trade was dealt a blow by craftsman from Chadoora village. ”Two villagers had decided to set up a cottage factory of willow baskets. They had hired employees from Chadoora who leaked the secrets of the trade to others,” says Sonauallah.

Once the art of the craft was passed on to Shalabugh village, Haren village started providing seeds of willow to the people of Shalabugh to obtain raw materials. “They showed this generous gesture only to meet their growing demands,” says Sonauallah.

About Author

A journalist with seven years of working experience in Kashmir.

6 Comments

  1. I want to buy the willow wicker baskets for further trading, I will buy this in bulk quantity, cantact me.
    On my no.09928818373

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