Kashmir is home to one of world’s most vibrant heritage and culture, which Kashmiris have inculcated in their tourism, handicrafts and lifestyle allowing them to produce exquisite work of arts and crafts. Today, world-renowned Kashmiri woodwork, household articles, art and craft are subjected to Indian violence. Exports of Kashmiri handicrafts have come to a halt as the curfew crosses 170 days. The life of Kashmiris was already under siege but now so is their livelihood because they are unable to acquire raw materials as well as take their product to the markets. This is resulting not only in reduced revenues but is also threatening the local cultural heritage, which is an integral part of the Kashmiri identity.
Kashmir is famous for its heaven – like beauty, which attracts domestic as well as international tourists who have keen interest in tangible as well as intangible cultural heritage, including but not limited to Kashmiri traditional cuisine, traditional costumes and a wide range of handicrafts.
Handicrafts are a distinctive feature of a specific culture or community through local craft skills and materials. Kashmiri people and artisans make different types of handicrafts, and decorate the objects by hand. Srinagar, Ganderbal, and Budgam are the main districts in Indian Occupied Jammu & Kashmir (IOJ&K), which are known for their handicrafts product.
Kashmiris make different types of handicrafts, with simple traditional materials, such as pashmina, shawls, carpets, silverware, woodwork, crewel embroidery, phool kari, Kashmiri rugs and papier-mâché. It is said that the people of Kashmir learnt Namda weaving in the 11th century, when Mughal emperor Akbar ordered for a suitable floor covering for his horse.
Kashmiri papier-mâché was brought by Muslim saint Mir Sayyid Ali Hamadani, from Persia in the 14th century. It is based primarily on paper pulp, and is richly decorated, colorful artifact, generally, in the form of vases, bowls, cups, boxes, trays, bases of lamps, and many other small objects. These are made in homes and workshops in Srinagar and other parts of the Kashmir, and are marketed at home and abroad because of the unique production technique and colorful motifs.
Walnut wood carvings, manufactured in IOJ&K are also very famous for their durability, style and craftsmanship. Juglans regia tree that grows in the Kashmir region is used for this, and Kashmir is one of a few places where one can find wood from walnut trees, which is used to make tables, jewelry boxes, trays, etc.
Pashmina is a fine type of cashmere wool, which comes from a number of different breeds of the cashmere goat and is high in demand in local as well as international markets. The textiles made from it were first woven in Kashmir, thus, pashmina came to be known as ‘cashmere’ in the West because Europeans first encountered this fiber here. Often shawls called shahmina are hand spun and woven from cashmere fiber. However, Shahtoosh (king of fine wools) is the name given to a specific kind of shawl, which is woven with the down hair of the Tibetan antelope (chiru) by craftsmen and women of Kashmir. The estimated market value of a Shahtoosh shawl in the western market is around $5,000 –$20,000.
Tourists are really attracted to the traditional outfit for both males and females in Kashmir, called pheran. The pheran and poots consist of two gowns, one over the other and extend to the feet.
Another cultural attraction, Dumhal is a traditional dance performed in IOJ&K by the wattal tribe. Only men folk of the wattal perform this dance on specific occasions and at set locations. Generally, this dance is performed wearing long, colorful robes and tall conical caps, studded with beads and shells. The dancers sing in chorus on the beat of drums. The performers move in a ritual manner and dig a banner into the ground on set occasions and usually the dance begins with men dancing around this banner.
The shikara is a type of wooden boat found in Srinagar in IOJ&K. Shikaras are of varied sizes and are used for multiple purposes, including transportation of people. Like the Venetian gondolas, they are a cultural symbol of Kashmir. Also a large portion of revenue is generated by shikaras, mainly during the tourist season.
Rice and meat is the staple food of Kashmiris and has been since ancient times. The Kashmir valley is noted for its bakery tradition. On the Dal Lake in downtown Srinagar, bakery shops are elaborately laid out. Tsot and tsochvor are small round breads topped with poppy and sesame seeds, which are crisp and flaky, sheermal, lavas (unleavened bread), noon chai, kahwa and kulcha are also popular. Girdas and lavas are served with butter. Kashmiri baqarkhani has a special place in Kashmiri cuisine and has travelled far to other parts of the country.
Wazwan is a multi-course meal in the Kashmiri Muslim tradition, treated with great respect and regarded by the Kashmiri Muslims as a core element of their culture and identity. Its preparation is considered an art and almost all the dishes are meat-based (lamb, chicken, beef, but never fish). The traditional number of courses for the wazwan is thirty-six including but not limited to gushtaba, though there can be fewer.
The entire above-mentioned tangible and intangible cultural heritage has a special socio-economic significance in Kashmir. The handicraft industry remains an important key in the economic development of IOJ&K and the industry has a great handout towards employment opportunities. Handmade products are exported all over the world. Kashmiri handicrafts eliminated financial crises for those people who are affected with physical disabilities. After handicrafts gained foreign exposure, many young Kashmiris pursued making handicrafts as a profession.
Since handicraft products are mainly made for tourists, the industry has helped in the development of tourism in the valley and at the same time, it has made Kashmir famous around the world. For instance, the Kashmiri hand-knotted carpet has a very prominent place in handicrafts because of its unique design, indigenous motifs, quality and durability. The carpet industry makes a great contribution towards exports from the handicraft sector in Kashmir.
Kashmir has remained an industrially backward state due to lack of investment from the private sector, remoteness and poor connectivity, shallow markets, poor infrastructure, and most importantly, the law and order situation. Handicraft industry is suited to Kashmir as it is more labour intensive and less capital intensive, consequently, having scope for employment generation on a large scale. It provides employment to both literate and illiterate people in rural, urban and tribal areas. The handicraft industry acts as a secondary source of income for the farmers who remain unemployed during winters. Both men and women are dependent specifically on the carpet industry in Kashmir for their subsistence.
Besides human tragedy, the economic cost of the recent barbaric curfew and conflict imposed by Indian government cannot be confined to a particular sector of industry or investment prospects. It has immensely threatened and affected the important sources of livelihood of locals such as tourism, horticulture and handicrafts industries. Besides exacting extensive damage to the infrastructure of the region, the violent intrusion has repelled private investment, pushing the economy towards stagnation. The downward trend of economy in Kashmir has been acutely felt as the local markets did not receive any supply of Kashmiri handicrafts in general, and shawls in particular, during this winter season, resulting in scarcity of new variety of pashmina and shatoosh shawls for the domestic as well as foreign consumers. This adds up to the misery of people in Kashmir as they can neither produce their craft, nor market or sell it to readily willing and available buyers, causing an economic death to those who managed to survive from other challenges of brutal state policies.
By repealing Article 370 and 35A of the constitution, people from the rest of India will now have the right to acquire property in IOJ&K and settle there permanently. Kashmiris as well as international critics of India’s Hindu nationalist government see the move as a conspiracy and an attempt to dilute the demographics of Muslim-majority Kashmir with Hindu settlers, which is a serious threat to the culture and traditions of Kashmir. How will the Kashmiri people be able to live, normal, happy, healthy life after this cruel intervention? The social thread would not remain the same and would have a ripple effect on their social as well as economic infrastructure of society. This extreme behavior by Indian government has threatened the core existence of Kashmiris. We all have a social as well as moral responsibility to raise our voice against this barbaric act and strengthen our government agencies to take a stand on international platforms to pressurize India to stop violating human rights in IOJ&K and stripping it of its identity and heritage. HH