By: Shikha Patial
The rich and extremely intricate designs woven so playfully on Himachali handicrafts, takes days of hard work and endurance. Despite having this extraordinary skill to produce exquisite handlooms, the Himachali weavers remain at the mercy of the welfare schemes of the government. The schemes, which mostly include insurance benefits, health facilities and some petty allowances, are although supportive but not substantial enough. While their actual welfare lies in enhancing the market for their products and moreover popularizing their creations which can substantially uplift them, this aspect is barely paid any heed upon through the odd welfare schemes announced by the government so far.
Recently it was announced that the state government is soon to implement various sponsored schemes for upliftment of weavers. The ‘Handicraft Weavers Comprehensive Welfare Scheme’, aims at providing insurance cover with enhanced insurance benefits and better health facilities to handicraft weavers.
Such schemes at the most can support the existing condition of the weavers from further deterioration, but the real question is will it assure it the required market. Beautifully designed shawls ranging from ordinary woolen ones to very expensive Pashmina shawls should have no dearth of demand in national and international market but there is lack of regular channels of marketing and export. Most of the weavers are discouraged because of this fact.
Himachali handicrafts also suffer badly because of lack of promotions and popularity in the state itself. The capital’s Mall Road always remains occupied with handicrafts and handlooms exhibition-cum sales not of Himachali goods but mostly of goods from other states like UP, Chattisgarh etc. We seldom get to see exhibitions of Himachali handicrafts on regular basis in the city which have one of the greatest numbers of tourists coming to it every year and can reach them this way.
The lack of popularity of Himachali handicrafts in the state’s own capital is also evident from the fact that except Himachal Emporium, Khadi Gram Udhyog and may be few more outlets, one would see no other showroom offering or displaying Himachali handlooms. Most of the handloom shops on Mall road display Kashmiri shawls and other designer or trendy dresses and similar is the situation in Kufri too, the most famous tourist spot near Shimla.
Himachali caps which once remained the pride and symbol of Himachal’s tradition now seem to be a political symbol affiliated to one or the other party. It is harsh to say but Himachal’s generation next has hardly shows any craze about Himachali handicrafts.
There is a lot of scope of improvisation in Himachali designs and handicrafts for making them universally popular, but a strong political will also should be attached to such plans. Or some community initiative can do wonders, like has happened in case of Chamba Rumal, which is on its way to get patented and have a GI status. After which nearly 500 artisans dedicated to this languishing art form in Chamba district would get the patent protection by registration under the Geographical Indications Act.
Seva Himalaya an NGO working for conservation of traditional handicrafts in Himachal had a big role to play in protecting the interests of the artisans lest the Ludhiana industries victimized them. Kangra tea and Kullu Shawl have also been protected under the GI ACT and Kinnauri shawl is next in line. It is definite that the status would create a global market for the product, but the question remains from which side the marketing efforts will come.
Most of the shopkeepers here in Shimla feel that Himachali handicrafts are not commercially viable. The significant contribution to the handicraft weavers would be promotion of their skill and exquisite products, which have no lack of demand but the marketing is absent to impart them the ‘popularity’. There is definitely a market for their work but the need is to make their work reach that market in a splendid way.