Friday, May 11, 2012

Sheikh Fayaz Ahmad 

It’s indeed time to celebrate the successful female cloning of Noori, the world's first pashmina goat clone, produced in Kashmir a few weeks ago by a group of local scientists and researchers. The whole Centre of Animal Biotechnology at Sher-i-Kashmir Agriculture University for Science and technology (SKAUST) deserves kudos for this breakthrough. Nevertheless this project was funded by World Bank and Karnal-based National Dairy Research Institute (NDRI) so they too deserve appreciation. This small newspaper article will not deal with the ethical ramifications of cloning but instead will locate the economic benefits of this biological breakthrough. Will this cloned Noori help us develop our pashmina industry? Will these types of scientific breakthroughs help us to save our dying art and revive our ailing industries? These are some questions to be delineated here. 
Many people including the scientists believe that with Noori there is hope that pashmina can be yielded in lower altitude like Kashmir valley which ultimately is going to boost the pashmina shawl industry. True, this cloned pashmina goat may help us reduce our dependency on those areas and markets who sell pashm (raw form of pashmina) to the merchants in Srinagar but to argue that Noori alone will rejuvenate and revitalize our ailing shawl industry is refreshingly a naïve claim.
Here I am in no case overlooking the economic importance of this cloned pashmina goat but to me pashmina shawl industry can only be rejuvenated by empowering its  real unsung actors like the cleaners, dyers, weavers, , buglers and washer men. These are some of the forgotten creative brains behind the success of the pashmina shawls. However it is unfortunate to reflect that they are living a miserable life. Thousands of impoverished artisans are desperate to live a happy life. The benefits of their creativity and ingenuity are being expropriated by a handful of exporters. These ‘disadvantaged’ artisans have kept the pashmina shawl industry alive despite many odds and challenges.  The weavers have lost their sense of sight...most of them can’t see, the washer men and dyers have eaten up all the chemicals  and the women who clean the coarse from the pashm have ended up with severe ailments and no one has ever patted them consolingly. It’s unfortunate but true. This industry need to be democratized at the earliest else this local shawl warped in the local culture and tradition will disappear very soon. 
The second important step to revive the pashmina shawl industry is to check duplicity and imitation. Pashmina shawls are imitated everywhere in the world. France, Russia, USA, Australia, Japan, England, China and Nepal are some countries known to imitate the Kashmiri pashmina shawls and are selling them under the trade name cashmere. Not only have the European and Middle Asian countries imitated the Kashmiri pashmina shawls but within India itself one can find many state governments encouraging the imitation of the shawls. Imagine in the National Museum of India, New Delhi, a place meant to preserve the objects with scientific, artistic, cultural, or historical importance selling imitated Paisely made pashmina shawls with the tags ‘Made in the special factories of Kashmir’. Where are these Paisley factories in Kashmir? Why are we silent over such ruthless imitation and duplicity? Where is the government? Celebrating the success of Noori alone won’t do, we need to be particle and have to take some concrete steps towards the development of pashmina shawl industry in Kashmir. In Kashmir the local brokers sell and supply the duplicate form of pashm containing viscose, acrylic and other low-quality fabric of rabbit and camel wool. We need to break this vicious nexus which damages the reputation of this famous brand. The practice of selling Amritsar made shawls in the name of Kashmir should also be discouraged. 
Alas! government is blind to all these concerns. Instead of encouraging and empowering our artisans, our state officials seem hell-bent on disempowering them. How our states describe the local artisans who have developed this craft can be well gauged from the Annual plan for 2010-11 published by the Planning and Development Department, Govt. of J&K. This annual report on page 680 reflects that “The machine made fabrics and trade liberalization have affected the handloom sector adversely…The handloom sector is facing multiple challenges from the main textile sector. Poor productivity of the weavers, increased cost of production, cheaper synthetic substitutes in the textile sector and changing customer tastes has put forth challenging pressure in competitive”. From this report one can sense the attitude of our policy makers towards the development of artisans in general and the shawl industry in particular.  One can contest this irresponsible description by questioning them how the so called ‘unproductive’ artisan could come up with new designs and products. Without any government intervention or support they compete with the jacquard and other power looms of the west. Despite being under paid they utilize their maximum creative potential to preserve and diffuse the local culture and tradition to the world. Still we call them ‘unproductive’.  
Finally I would like to conclude with the argument that we need to democratize the pashmina shawl industry at the earliest; we have to empower the artisans and come up with artisan friendly policies. Technological and biological breakthroughs alone won’t solve our problems. In fact to use technology we need human resource with some technical knowhow. No doubt Noori project is a good attempt towards the revival of the pashmina shawl trade, however our researchers should also focus on some bigger problems which otherwise impede and delay development. 

Monday, May 7, 2012

C for Creativity


As of now we have more than seven universities in Jammu and Kashmir out of which some Universities have been accredited as ‘A’ grade university by the National Accreditation Council of India (NAAC) while the others are yet to get graded. But the university model I seek to delineate in this article is purely of the ‘C’ grade/type. When I mean ‘C- grade’, please don’t mistake it with the NAAC grading. I am actually referring to ‘creativity - a University exclusively meant to nourish and nutrify creativity and innovations. I am talking of a university which will encourage creativity, imagination and originality. Imagination and creativity are two important aspects of ‘knowledge based economy’ or what we call a ‘knowledge based society’. 
Can we think of a university which will channelize creativity and help solve our unsolved problems and puzzles? Is such a creative university possible? My answer is yes… We can think of such a C-type university in Kashmir.
 Kashmir had given some brilliant creative ideas and innovations to the world in the past. For instance, suspension bridge technology, seamless celestial globe, twill tapestry and paper, to mention a few. Dick Teresi, the author of God Particle in his path breaking book on history of science titled Lost Discoveries: The Ancient Roots of Modern Science-from the Babylonians to the Maya published in 2002 referred to Kashmir as the place which gave the technology of suspension bridge to the world. Amit Bhattacharyya in another book Swadeshi Enterprises in Bengal, 1995 argues that the art of paper making got diffused to the whole of India from Kashmir. Ali Kashmiri another unsung astronomer and metallurgist invented the first seamless celestial globe in 1589. Not only did the contemporary scholars but also the western travelers who visited Kashmir between 15th and 17th century recognized the ‘creative genius’ in the local people here. Francois Bernier in 1665 remarked that “the people of Kashmir are very active and industrious compared to the people of Hindustan”. Similarly, William Moorcroft in his travelogue titled Travels in the Himalayan Provinces of Hindustan and the Punjab, in Ladakh and Kashmir, in Peshawar, Kabul, Kunduz and Bokhara, from 1819 to 1825 has fully recognized the creative potential of Kashmir’s. Moorcroft contends that “The natives of Kashmir have been always considered as amongst the most lively and ingenious people of Asia, and deservedly so….With a liberal and wise government they might assume an equally high scale as a moral and intellectual people”. He further described the people of Kashmir as ‘decided genius’; “...He has great ingenuity as a mechanic, and a decided genius for manufactures and commerce”. Later on Lawrence in The Valley of Kashmir (1895) described the natives of Kashmir as intellectuals and wrote “He is timid yet persistent, degraded yet intellectual”. After considering the creative contributions by the people of Kashmir in the past, one can safely conclude that Kashmir had developed an innovation ecosystem much before Korea, Japan and USA. Hard to believe but true! 
However, many people can contest this argument by questioning the present drab system of education in the valley. We have a number of universities which lack in innovations and publications and where rote learning is a common practice. Learning by doing and understanding by experiencing and experimentation is hardly encouraged. There is hardly anyone to give a boost to pedagogical innovations; it is as if everyone is in a deep slumber. Take the example of the famous Dal Lake, encircled and crowded by a bunch of universities, technical institutes and with the residences of top govt. officials. This famous water body is dying! Who will save it? the big, expensive and useless machines from Switzerland. Yes, the local researchers and scientists have to get the job done. Government should fund such research activities. Technical institutes would add value to such research and the local administration should be happy to apply such local solutions. To be concise I must say, that a university with the hallmark of ‘creativity’ and ‘innovation’ is possible provided all the three actors i.e The Government, The University and the local people wish so. Let us keep this C–Type University open for everyone so that ideas can flow from all the sectors. Instead of heading to Switzerland or France for finding the solutions to our problems, it would be a better option to seek the solution from our own people.
 Sheikh Fayaz Ahmad, the author of Unsung Innovators of Kashmir is a full time Research Scholar at the Center for Studies in Science Policy- Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi-India. He can be reached at