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Reviving craftsmanship in Kashmir, empowering young entrepreneurs

By Shilpa Raina, New Delhi, Feb 3 : A new generation of craftsmen from Kashmir are on the path to revive and develop age-old craft techniques like traditional numda rugs, kani shawls and crewl embroidery through a project that is mentoring them and providing financial assistance of Rs.400,000 - and generating jobs.


Six young entrepreneurs from the Valley were in the capital at the lush, green lawns of Gandhi-King Plaza at India International Centre Sunday evening where they talked passionately about how the NGO Commitment to Kashmir (CtoK) helped them with financial muscle to establish their small businesses, which in turn have provided employment to a large number of artisans, especially women.

One of the success stories is that of 23-year-old Mahvash who has replaced the traditional "flower and leaves" embroidery with "birds of Kashmir". This twist to a traditional design was welcomed by many, but she didn't have money to take the skill forward.

She then approached CtoK with her idea of producing high-end fashion garments and it was immediately lapped up.

"Money has definitely helped me with the business, but it is the mentorship that I cherish the most. I have been able to learn a lot from my mentors about business and how to take it forward," Mahvash told IANS.

Because of this assistance, Mahavash has been able to provide direct employment to over 100 artisans, mostly women, who are involved at various levels in fabricating hand- embroidered shawls.

Karan Singh, a Congress member of the Rajya Sabha and son of Maharaja Hari Singh, the last ruler of erstwhile princely state of Kashmir, who was the chief guest at the event, said such stories from the Valley are "rare" but provide a "ray of hope" about its future.

"We have hardly heard any good news from the Valley in a quarter of a century. There has been a monumental tragedy in Kashmir and such a project is a massive attempt to heal the scars of the community," he said.

"When one gets to hear such rare stories, it gives a ray of hope to us. Kashmir has always been famous for its art and craft and this project is helping young people to exhibit their skills," he added.

The project was conceived by the late L.C. Jain, a former member of the Planning Commission, to enable young people in the Valley sustain themselves.

Among the prominent names associated with the project are Laila Tyabji of Dastkar; Manju Nirula and Gita Ram of the Crafts Council of India; Ritu Sethi of Craft Revival Trust; Gulshan Nanda, former chairperson of Central Cottage Industries Emporium and Jain's family members.

In Kashmir, the project has the support of the Crafts Development Institute and its faculty.

The selection process at CtoK, which basically run on donations and grants, is simple. It examines the business plans of craftspersons, entrepreneurs and women from the Valley and selects four or five for providing interest-free loans. It also guides in drawing up marketing strategies, apart from conducting skill-enhcement workshops.

"There is so much of turbulence in the Valley that people have lost their confidence. The unsettled socio-political of a state that is highly dependent on its craftsmanship has pushed its backwards," CtoK trustee Tyabji said.

"The objective is to enable people sustain themselves, help them with grants, mentor them and help them establish and identify potential markets," she added.

(Shilpa Raina can be contacted at shilpa.r@ians.in)

--IANS (Posted on 04-02-2014)

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