BETTER NOT WRAP NOORI IN A
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.