Srinagar: At 17, when Imtiyaz Ahmad dropped out of school to learn the skill of weaving Pashmina from his father he was told that weaving earns more money than other jobs.
Now 33, Imtiyaz has been facing a constant struggle in running his household.
“My father had always referred to the times of 1980’s when the pay for making one shawl was rupees 1200. He also said that those in service of government did not earn as much as a weaver did. It is a beautiful skill and I never expected its loss of worth,” he said, reminiscing the olden days.
Craftsmanship in the valley is a blend of historical skill set making every handmade piece unique and famous all over the globe. Hand-woven Pashmina shawl is one such creation. However, in the recent years, the handloom sector has seen a drastic decline in the market affecting the weavers in all ways possible.
The invention of power loom has wiped out most of the handloom’s existence in Jammu and Kashmir, and may soon eradicate it. In a distressing tone, Imtiyaz mentioned the impact of machines on the labourers’ daily life.
“Dealers and manufacturers now prefer machines over humans mainly for their profit. A labourer at the power loom sector receives about rupees 50 for every shawl, while the dealer sells it for the price of a hand-woven pashmina shawl. They do not prefer us solely because of the wage they’d have to pay us as quantity matters more to them than quality. It takes three days to complete one shawl, and the wage we receive is rupees 600 with no increase what-so-ever. Also, whenever I ask for an increase in wage they either say they haven’t sold the shawls yet, or blame it on GST or speak of moving to machines.”
His brother, Khurshid Ahmad, who is also into the same stream, lamented on the implementation of GST in the valley. “After GST came into force here, life has become more difficult. GST hasn’t changed for the manufacturers, dealers, and wholesalers though since they apply GST and get the money while selling them but they tell us that GST has been applied and cannot increase our wage,” Khurshid said.
Nevertheless, the production of power loomed pashminas lack the richness and purity. The public is lured into buying it for its cheaper price, and shine. He believes that the handloom sector will cease to exist in a few years.
The livelihoods of these labourers face constant challenges.
“I’ve tried applying for jobs numerous times, and I’m are still trying. Any job like a delivery boy’s job too would do. I’m skilled in weaving and I don’t have much knowledge in any other field. My brother and I don’t want to pursue weaving anymore. I have two kids and I need to be able to finance their studies. Most of the weavers of pashmina I’ve known left this occupation and joined other jobs to get paid more than before. Some get paid the same amount but they at least don’t have to put so much effort to earn the same. They also get 3-4 days off monthly but for us; we have no holiday at all. Even if we fall sick we have no other choice but to work or we wouldn’t earn the little we do. We are fed up of this work now; any other job seems to be better for us to feed our family,” said Imtiyaz.
The wage is not paid on time. In the case of Imtiyaz, he hasn’t received his wages for five months now.
Work is not the only issue a weaver battles at present; the personal lives of the young and unmarried handloom labourers are predominantly affected. Imtiyaz and Khurshid disclosed the struggles they faced to find a partner.
“No man was willing to give his daughter’s hand in marriage because they feel we don’t earn enough to support the family,” Imtiyaz stated.