It helps Kashmiri artisans to turn entrepreneurs

It helps Kashmiri artisans to turn entrepreneurs

For Manzoor Ahmad Khan, a young artisan-turned-entrepreneur from old city of Srinagar, year 2010 was full of gloom as his dream of making it big was crashing. That year protests, killings and lawlessness ruled the streets of Srinagar and Khan had nothing to do except confine himself to his room.

Khan, who comes from traditional Kashmiri artisans’ family, after finishing his graduation pursued Craft Management and Entrepreneurship course from Craft Development Institute (CDI). “My father was an artisan but I wanted to be an entrepreneur. But 2010 came as a shock for me like most of the Kashmiris,” he told Deccan Herald. But then in 2012 Khan came in touch with a little-known non-governmental organisation --Commitment to Kashmir (CtoK). The CtoK not only gave soft loan to Khan to realise his dreams but also guided him how to market his products. “The marketing platform provided by CtoK to entrepreneurs like me throughout the country gave a boost to us. CtoK is proving to be the friend, philosopher and guide for many crafts men and women like me,” he added.

With CtoK grant, Khan along with his partner Muteen Ahmad set up their own label “Blossoms of Heaven”, and a 12-loom pashmina unit, with 13 full-time weavers. They give secondary employme­nt to seven other drafters, clippers and dyers. Using natural dyes, their unique and striking designs have secured a large order from the international brand S Oliver.

Like Khan, Arifa Jan is another beneficiary of the CtoK whose diploma project was on innovations from traditional “numda rugs” of Kashmir, made from felt wool. After availing CtoK loan, she started her own workshop with innovative numda designs becoming a huge hit at the Dastkar’s Nature Bazaar in Delhi, where she sold 80 per cent of her durries. Arifa was later selected by the Central government for an international craft
exhibition in Italy.

The CtoK sent Arifa to Kyrgyzstan in July 2013 to interact with and learn from other people associated with the trade in an international workshop.

Enabled and facilitated by CtoK, Arifa’s journey from struggling craftsperson to confident designer-entrepreneur with her own company is highly commendable. She employs 18 Kashmiri craftspeople and has witnessed a commendable six-fold increase in sales through the various CtoK initiatives. The CtoK launched in 2011, according to the organisers, was an idea born out of the summer unrest that gripped the Kashmir Valley in 2009 and 2010, paralysing livelihood of thousands of crafts persons with so few opportunities and guidance.

Conceived by the late LC Jain, former member, Planning Commission and crafts visionary, the CtoK supports a new generation of craftspeople from Kashmir to become independent and sustainable entrepreneurs.

The trust has as its members some big names such as Gulshan Nanda, former chairperson of Cottage Industries; Laila Tyabji, Chairperson, Dastkar; Manjari Nirula and Gita Ram of Crafts Council of India; Ritu Sethi, Chairperson of the Craft Revival Trust; Rathi Vinay Jha, founder of NIFT; Jyotsna Singh, Director of the Dara Shikoh Centre for Arts in Srinagar, Jatin Bhatt, Dean of the School of Design at Ambedkar University, Delhi; and M S Farooqi, former director, Craft Development Institute, Srinagar, and the family members of LC Jain who have taken on to build and consolidate it in the last two years.
Laila Tyabji, who was in Srinagar last week for an exhibition, told Deccan Herald that the idea behind the initiative was to create and reenergise crafts and livelihood for young Kashmiri people troubled by years of strife and violence.

“CtoK also aims at providing the vulnerable craftspeople direct access to new markets thereby removing the exploitative middlemen and giving more empowerment to the craft community to directly operate in the market as well as earn fair wages,” she said. 

She said four or five people will be selected for interest-free loans and they would be mentored. Since its inception, the CtoK has been able to build a small corpus with donations from a range of corporate and individual donors. The CtoK’s work began with a substantive donation from Kumar Mangalam Birla, chairman of the Aditya Birla Group whose support in its nascent stages helped the Trust kick start its program. The contributions have allowed the CtoK to support six beneficiaries from the Kashmir valley to become entrepreneurs with a seed capital of about Rs four to five lakh. The beneficiaries like Manzoor and Arifa are doing good business in felt wool rugs, pashmina, kaani weaving and ari embroidery.

This year with the help of donations from Rohini Nilekani of Akshara Foundation and Arghyam Trust, NR Narayan Murthy, founder of IT company Infosys, Hari Bhartia, Population Foundation of India, and others, the CtoK has been able to start new initiatives with a fresh batch of Kashmiri craftspeople working in copperware, willow wicker and papier mache moulds.

The CtoK has also received the support of a premier institutions like NIFT, Delhi, and Srinagar to build the capacity of a tailoring unit in Srinagar. While NIFT, Srinagar, has agreed to conduct an intensive training programme for the women’s tailoring project free, Professor Vandana Narang, Campus Director of NIFT, Delhi, has offered to conduct a special one-on-one advanced training for the woman grantee.

Also, NIFT, Delhi, under the guidance of Professor Sudha Dhingra has given the CtoK access to a bank of Kashmiri garment designs as well as shawl border designs collected and even developed by them over the years.


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