Pashmina- A Declining Legacy of Kashmir

“It starts like a beige tuft of fibre, protruding from a large burlap sack. As we pull it from the hidden source,  it gradually reveals itself.”

What’s soft and cuddly, has a touch of class, and is guaranteed to bring a warm glow to even the most unromantic? A pashmina shawl. No wonder it is donned as a family treasure and passed down through generations the world over. The “Soft Gold” or Pashmina as we call it is a prized possession since time immemorial, not just for the household or Kashmir but for the entire nation.

Kashmir has a rich and ancient heritage of craftsmanship. The land of unique motifs and design techniques that have been transformed and perfected over centuries. Mastering Kashmiri craftsmanship takes years of training and designing Pashmina shawls is an art that has been carried forward through generations of craftsmen. To your surprise, a pashmina shawl can take up to 6 months to a year to be made. The legacy is intricately handwoven and embroidered to craft perfection. As a matter of fact, until the 1940s, this precious silk yarn produced in this Valley was exported all over Europe. But to our sorrow, today the craftsmen are fighting the battle of the pashmina. The enemy in this war — inexpensive, imitation pashmina wool that has caused its sales to plummet.

Pashmina is fighting an existential battle. The pashmina industry of Kashmir is a crucial economic contributor to the state and to the country as well. It is one of the largest economic activities providing direct employment to the majority of artisans and traders. This sector also plays an important role in the development and welfare of artisans. The pashmina sector makes the conspicuous contribution in sustaining export trade of the state. However, the industry has seen a decline since late 90‘s. The industry is facing a lot of challenges, some reasons of this are an intervention of modern machinery, lack of information regarding market trends and also increased competition from various countries. The artisans, as well as the traders/manufacturers, are suffering in this struggle of keeping this legacy alive.

 

Having raised the problem now it’s time for India to fight for pashmina and its market position globally. Artisans and the traders/manufacturers who are related to this trade faces many obstacles like rising cost of raw material, decreased demand due to the introduction of fake pashmina shawls in the market, lack of information regarding market trends and labor rights etc. Artisans face labor problems as well, as they themselves are ready to work on low labor because they don‘t have any other source of earning their livelihood. Also, a majority of the artisans are from the poor economic background and therefore, they mainly face economic problems.

As per traders, arts emporium have lost its glory and haven‘t played the role for which it was meant. As per traders, there have been the cases of arts emporium selling products of angora, toosha, etc in the name of pashmina products. Fake selling of shawls in the name of pashmina products are one of the dreadful threat for customers, due to this reason the perception regarding pashmina in the minds of customers has changed and hence the market situation too.

 

As mentioned earlier there is an immediate need to reshape our domestic market of Kashmir in order to enhance the pashmina business activities so that the local artisans would themselves know the trend being followed in the market in order to be on top of the market and customer minds. We need to believe and consider the artisans as the backbone of this business and wish for them to be very informative and creative in their work which can be achieved if the gap between market and artisan is reduced. The government has identified pashmina a product with high export potential. It’s high time we put in every possible effort to fight the troubles our Pashmina industry in facing and revive its beauty for generations to follow.

Kashmir Rugby Team

Unrest. Turmoil. Tension. Protests.

This is what one normally hears when it comes to the valley. But lesser do they know that the forces trying to dominate evil over good are never stronger than the ones who do the opposite. New Age Kashmir is one such platform where we bring the real essence of what the valley carries and this picture, believe me, is ethereal.

Today, we have a unique story of how a group of girls under the sky when wrap themselves in dedication, hard work, perseverance and talent break all odds and win over stereotypes. We are talking about the girls Rugby team of Jammu and Kashmir who have been in the news for their miraculous victories and unbending attitude towards anyone who has tried to stop them.

When Irfan Aziz Botta, a Srinagar-based industrialist took the decision of introducing rugby to the state, everything went smoothly. He contacted the Indian Olympic Association that organised a camp at Islamia College of Science and Commerce in Srinagar in 2004. But hardly any women participated back then. But today, 4000 girls in the state have enrolled for the game with the State Sports Council.

The fearless, bold women from Kashmir are defying all odds and coming out to play rugby in the Gindun Sports stadium, every Sunday, without fail, to follow their passion and make a name for themselves and the state. They fight everything including the fear of what is happening on the streets, to play for their state. And their efforts are finally paying off. The State’s Women’s Rugby team won the 3rd National Snow Rugby Championship held in Gulmarg recently.

 

Once considered to be a man’s game, rugby is exponentially gaining popularity amongst young women in the valley. The girls’ team played their first competitive game in 2006 but who could have thought that eleven years later, these rugby players from Kashmir will play at national and international levels.

Salihah Yusuf, captain of the team, narrates her story saying her PT teacher pushed her to participate when Botta went to her school for a training camp since she was active in the school’s sports circuit. And now she says “I am glad she did it, because I live for the game now!” Such is the journey these women have travelled.

Different faces, different circumstances, different stories, different cultures but one spirit of Rugby keeps them unwavered and unstoppable. While some were asked to quit because of studies, others were not allowed to travel outside the state, some were even dissuaded on the grounds of being a girl but as they say “There is no force equal to that of a determined woman”, they had chosen their path.

These girls have been breaking stereotypes around the women of Kashmir. They are not shy. They are bold. They are women with ambition. They are highly motivated by their want of making Kashmir proud.

 

And when asked where do they see themselves in five years from now? They all echoed the same thought…

Representing India in international rugby matches.

Kashmir’s rugby team has received a lot of support from several quarters. Looking at their determination former Sri Lankan rugby captain and Member of Parliament, Namal Rajapaksa from Sri Lanka have come to help teach them the tricks of this game.

Namal Rajapaksa said, “Kashmir has a window of opportunity. The kids should be guided and an apolitical willingness should be there to bring that change. Sports is a key alternative in that process.” We welcome Mr. Namal Rajapaksa and thank him for his support to promote sport’s culture in Kashmir especially in Rugby.

Kashmiris who don Padma Shri with pride

If life was binary; Kashmir would be one, if victory or loss we are victorious and if good or bad we are always the best. That is not our arrogance but reassurance in the culture we exhibit. Our legacy runs beyond great and so does our genius.

Kashmir has always been glorified as the most beautiful land where heaven meets earth but lesser do we talk about the other accolades we have won over the years through our talent and our sheer GENIUS. So, today, let us take you touring around some of the Padma Shri awardees from Jammu and Kashmir in the past 8 years to show you the people investitured with India’s fourth highest civilian honours from India’s best state- Well, yes that maybe a little biasedness for my homeland!

Starting with Hamidi Kashmiri who is a celebrated Urdu poet and a former Vice Chancellor of the University of Kashmir. Kashmiri is credited with 50 books. The Government of India honoured him in 2010, with the Padma Shri.

Our very own Muma Kana or Ghulam Mohammed Mir for the world, is a social worker who also runs a band saw business in his native Magam in central Kashmir’s Budgam district. In 2010, he received the Padma Shri award, for his public service works.

Jitendra Udhampuri is the next in line. He is a writer of Dogri, Hindi and Urdu literature. He is credited with 30 books and two Dogra treatises in these languages. He is a recipient of the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1981 while was honoured in 2010, with the Padma Shri.

Riyaz Punjabi, is a former Professor and Vice Chancellor at the University of Kashmir. He has written extensively in the field of Kashmir Studies. Through his publications, public lectures and discussions he has been projecting the syncretic culture of Kashmir Valley. Riyaz Punjabi has authored six books, contributed chapters in 12 edited volumes, and authored more than 20 occasional papers and monographs on diverse themes and subjects. He was honoured with the Padma Shri in 2011.

Nilamber Dev Sharma is a scholar and writer of Dogri and English literature, best known for his work, An Introduction to Modern Dogri literature, the first publication in English about Dogri Literature. The Government honoured him in 2011, with the Padma Shri.

Rameshwar Nath Koul Bamezai is a scientist in the field of human genetics and cancer biology. He is the coordinator of the National Centre of Applied Human Genetics, School of Life Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He was honoured with the Padma Shri Award in 2012 by the President of India for his contributions to the fields of science and technology.

Moti Lal Kemmu is a contemporary playwright from Kashmir. He was born in Srinagar a student of Jammu and Kashmir University. Several of his plays have also been translated and produced in Hindi. He won the Padma Shri award in 2012 for his work in the field of Arts and Literature.

P. Varma is a social worker and a peace activist from the valley who has made exemplary contribution by spreading the message of peace in trouble-torn areas of the Kashmir valley. He left his job to dedicate himself to the Gandhian Movement. He led the Gandhi peace mission to Europe and other parts of the country. In 2012, Govt of India recognized his selfless services towards country with Padma Shri award.

Ghulam Mohammad Saznawaz was the last known master of Kashmiri Sufiyana Music in the world. He opened a school to teach his genre of music. He was awarded the Padma Shri in 2013. Sadly, he passed away in 2014 in Srinagar at the age of 74 ending the rich legacy he was heir to.

Balwant Thakur is a renowned theatre personality and scholar, known for bringing Dogri theatre to international notice. He was honoured in 2013, by bestowing on him the Padma Shri for his contributions to the field of theatre.

Rajendra Tiku, is a sculptor and art teacher, known for his outdoor stone sculptures. He was honoured in 2013, by bestowing on him the Padma Shri for his contributions to the field of art.

Next in line is the renowned Ice Man of India, Chewang Norphel, a civil engineer from Ladakh, who has built 15 artificial glaciers, solving all the water crisis and its troubles in the valley. He was awarded Padma Shri in 2015 for his unforeseen contribution for the people of his land.

Latest additional in the list is Pran Kishore Kaul. He is a stage personality. In addition to acting, he has directed and written screenplays. He was bestowed from the Sahitya Akademi Award for his novel Sheen Tu Watu Pod. He was one of the founders of the Miltsar Kashmir Music & Dance Group, a group that travels widely with the goal of supporting Kashmiri and Indian arts. Pran Kishore Kaul is best known as the creator of 1991 Doordarshan television serial Gul Gulshan Gulfaam. In 2018, Kaul was awarded with the Padma Shri.

We could go on and on sharing about our Kashmiri gems, the list is endless. These people have not just shone brighter but also illuminated the path they have travelled. We not just admire and adore them but also take inspiration from their exemplary lives. May more and more of us grow to be them!