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Preserving Kashmir’s Kani Shawl legacy

National Award winners struggle with meagre wages, demand direct market access
12:42 AM Apr 30, 2024 IST | MUKEET AKMALI
preserving kashmir’s kani shawl legacy
Photo: Mubashir Khan/ GK
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In the winding alleys of Srinagar’s old city, the air is thick with the rhythm of looms and the scent of tradition. Mir Arts, a sanctuary of Kani Shawl craftsmanship, stands as a testament to the resilience of Kashmir’s artisans. Run by the Mir family, this workshop is a beacon of hope, where the intricate art of Kani Shawl’s design is fiercely guarded.

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Naseer Ahmad Mir, a national award winner in Kani Shawl design, recalls his journey with a mix of pride and determination. “I started this craft in 1998, under the guidance of my neighbour Noor Muhammad Bhat. He not only taught me the craft but also mentored me on navigating the intricate path towards recognition,” he reminisces. His dedication bore fruit when he clinched the prestigious national award for Kani Shawl making in 2006, bestowed by the Ministry of Textiles.

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Mir Arts is a testament to the collective prowess of the Mir family, with eight national award-winning artisans contributing their expertise to the timeless art of Kani Shawl making. Yet, despite their accolades, the artisans’ fortunes remain modest, with daily wages ranging from a mere 300 to 400 rupees.

Photo: Mubashir Khan/ GK

“Our journey began with just two looms,” Naseer recounts with pride. “But now, we operate fifteen, thanks to the collective efforts of my brothers and cousins.” Indeed, the Mir family’s prowess extends beyond Naseer’s initial triumph, with his brothers too making their mark on the national stage, their designs ranging from intricate Chinar motifs to exquisite Gulzar patterns.

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However, amidst their achievements, the artisans of Mir Arts face the harsh reality of financial struggles. Sajad Ahmad, a joint worker, received the prestigious NMC Award in 2016, while artisan Umar Amin was honoured in 2018, both of them are working at Mir Arst. Yet, these accolades have not translated into financial security, as they continue to toil for meagre wages.

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“It is my passion, but what I fear is that the younger generation is not ready to learn this craft, mainly due to low wages,” Naseer laments. “Despite putting in tireless efforts, an artisan earns only 300 to 400 rupees a day, and after two years of working, they develop neck and back problems. Middlemen make the merry, selling our hard work at throwaway prices while we get peanuts in the name of wages.”

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Zahoor Ahmad Mir, a Kani shawl artisan working at Mir Arts who won a national award in 2016, echoes Naseer’s sentiments. “The younger generation is not joining this craft because of the low wages. I have a family of five, and despite winning a national award, I find it difficult to feed them because I earn only 300 to 400 rupees a day. Sometimes, when I work for 12 hours straight, I can make 500 rupees, but that means jeopardizing my health.”

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Feroz Ahmad Mir, an artisan and a 22-year veteran of the Kani Shawl craft, shares his frustration. “We are not benefitting, despite our national awards and designs. Market prices are increasing, but we remain underpaid.”

As the looms continue to weave tales of tradition and resilience, the artisans of Mir Arts raise a collective voice, demanding a direct marketplace to sell their craft, free from the exploitation of middlemen. Their plea is a desperate cry for survival, a call to preserve the rich tapestry of Kashmir’s artistic heritage.

“We demand that artisans should be provided with a platform to directly sell their craft, rather than middlemen milking our agony to make their fortunes,” Naseer implores, his words echoing the sentiment of his fellow artisans.

In the face of mounting challenges, the artisans of Mir Arts remain undeterred, their hands and hearts woven into every intricate design. Their story is one of perseverance, sacrifice, and an unwavering commitment to preserving Kashmir’s cultural legacy. As the world watches, the question remains: will their cries for justice and fair wages be heard, or will this ancient craft fade into oblivion, taking with it the threads that bind Kashmir’s rich heritage?

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