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regular-article-logo Monday, 24 June 2024

In quick response code, hope for Kashmir’s carpet industry

The handicrafts industry has been on the verge of collapse because of falling exports

Muzaffar Raina Srinagar Published 14.03.22, 01:11 AM
A Kashmiri artisan displays a portrait of actor Salman Khan woven on a silk carpet in Srinagar last month.

A Kashmiri artisan displays a portrait of actor Salman Khan woven on a silk carpet in Srinagar last month. PTI Photo

The export of a measly 40,000 euros (Rs 33.5 lakh) worth of Geographical Indication-tagged carpets has held out a glimmer of hope for the revival of the Valley’s dying but famed carpet industry.

The Jammu and Kashmir government on Friday flagged off the Valley’s first-ever export consignment of GI-tagged carpets. The export, to Germany, comes following the introduction of a quick response (QR) code mechanism for the certification and labelling of handmade Kashmiri carpets.

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Officials claim the move will discourage the production of counterfeits and restore the credibility of the hand-knit Kashmiri carpet in its traditional markets in Europe and the US.

Kashmir’s handicrafts industry, primarily its carpets, along with tourism and agriculture has been the mainstay of the Valley’s economy for generations.

But the handicrafts industry has been on the verge of collapse because of falling exports, with the carpets bearing the brunt. Tens of thousands of artisans have quit the craft over the years.

Mehmood Ahmad Shah, director of the government’s handicrafts and handloom department, said the QR code attached to a GI tag would help preserve the quality and reputation of Kashmiri carpets.

“There are concerns about quality. Machine-made carpets have been dubbed handmade. Customer trust has gone down. If you want to bring customer trust back, you will need to introduce certification. There is no better certification than the QR code,” Shah told The Telegraph.

“The customer, otherwise, cannot count the knottage. Is it possible to know the material? We capture all data, like who made it, how much time it took, what material was used, what the knottage and size are.”

Shah said there should be a promotional campaign telling customers why they should ask for the GI tag.

“Eventually, it will boost exports as the carpets will be treated on a par with the quality/ price of Iranian and Turkish hand-knit carpets,” he said.

Umar Hameed, chairperson of the Carpet Export Promotion Council, said the QR code “will discourage counterfeits, which cost the weavers’ community and the industry”.

Kashmiri carpets were granted the GI tag in June 2016. That it took six years to start certifying the carpets is testimony to how things work in Jammu and Kashmir.

In these six years, the Valley has witnessed lockdowns over the 2016 killing of militant Burhan Wani, the 2019 scrapping of the special status and the pandemic — all of which paralysed life for months and deepened the carpet industry’s miseries.

When Srinagar last year made it to Unesco’s Crafts and Folk Arts category, it evoked an elated response from Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

“Delighted that beautiful Srinagar joins the @UNESCO Creative Cities Network (UCCN) with a special mention for its craft and folk art. It is a fitting recognition for the vibrant cultural ethos of Srinagar. Congratulations to the people of Jammu and Kashmir,” he tweeted.

On the ground, those associated with handicrafts say there is little to cheer about.

Carpets made in Jammu and Kashmir are being exported to more than 20 countries. In 2020-21, carpets worth Rs 115 crore were exported to Germany. This was out of total exports of Rs 300 crore that financial year — less than half the carpet exports in 2011-12.

Carpet dealer Tariq Shah said it was already too late for the industry.

“I think more than 80 per cent of weavers have quit the craft. Some of our folks continued to export poor-quality carpets to make good bucks and there was nobody to check the trend. The carpets were our pride but are no longer so,” he said.

“Government apathy and the surge in the production of machine-made carpets too hit us hard. A carpet weaver

who toils eight hours a day gets Rs 250, compared with the Rs 700 he earns as a day labourer. I don’t see any revival happening.”

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