In 2015, Shabir Ahmad Dar sold all the weaving equipment at his workshop to buy essentials for a newly opened general store in Zoonimar neighbourhood of Srinagar. After weaving for seventeen years, for living, Mr. Dar called it quits.
And so did many other weavers in his acquaintance. Until a few years ago, he recounts, about 90 percent of the households in Kashmir were associated with Pashmina weaving and designing; Mr. Dar witnessed it declining to, what he estimates, 30 percent.
Directorate of Handicrafts, Kashmir, estimates nearly 2.5 lakh artisan families are directly dependent on the trade for their livelihood. But the sector is not immune to the political instability in the region; since the clampdown in August, a regional commerce body, Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry, estimates that Kashmir’s tourism and handicraft sector has lost nearly 1,44,500 jobs.
Slowly our work decreased and there came a time when I was not able to feed my family properly. So, at the end, I left that line of work.
Beginning at the age of twenty, it took Mr. Dar eight years to learn weaving. “Slowly our work decreased and there came a time when I was not able to feed my family properly,” says Mr. Dar. “So, at the end, I left that line of work.”
One of the major reasons for the decrease in Mr. Dar’s work was the advent of power loom or machine. The looms were faster – with a vast variety of designs – it could produce about fifty pieces per day, wherein the handloom weavers could only make three to four pieces. The weavers’ product was costlier compared to the one produced by machines.
Ten years ago, Mr. Dar got 1,300 rupees for weaving a shawl; today, a weaver gets 600 rupees. Back in time, he also taught weaving to eight students; one of them was his cousin brother, Ghulam Jeelani.
I gave seventeen years of my life to this work and in the end, I didn’t get any benefits, why would I ask my children to live as weavers?
Mr. Jeelani has been partly associated with the business for the last twelve years. “If we don’t have any alternate work,” says the 25-year-old, “we won’t be able to meet our daily requirements.”
Describing weaving passionately, he says, “It is not an easy task; it requires a lot of concentration and patience. Colorful threads are used in the embroidery of these shawls and the raw material is hand-spun. These [shawls] are rare and unique with peculiar charm and interesting designs.”
However, pure Pashmina isn’t used in the shawls anymore. Subsequently, the prices drop. “So, people prefer the cheaper ones instead,” adds Mr. Jeelani. “The future generation would not prefer to work [in this sector] because of its low outcome.”
Meanwhile, Mr. Dar lives with his family in a single room and visits his – now shut – workshop at his cousin’s place sometimes. He will never want his children to pick this line of work. “I gave seventeen years of my life to this work and in the end, I didn’t get any benefits,” he says. “Why would I ask my children to live as weavers?”
Asif Hamid is a Multimedia Reporter at The Kashmir Walla.
This photo-essay was published in our 2-8 March 2020 print edition.