Protect culture to boost exports, jobs

Reuters file photo for representation.

India is a treasure trove of micro-economic activities that derive strength from our culture and traditions. Over the decades, the country has not put any conscious effort into protecting and preserving these traditions which, in the past, created demand for a wide range of products. The amazing diversity of small economic activities embedded in our culture not only builds a self-sustaining society, but it adds high value to organic and inorganic materials.

Indians buy nearly 40 tonnes of gold ornaments every year on Akshaya Tritiya day. As per Hindu belief, Akshaya Tritiya is the most auspicious day to buy gold, start house construction, buy new property and to get married. And that belief creates demand for gold ornaments that let artisans hone their skills to build a booming gems and jewellery sector.

Today, the sector contributes 7.06% of India’s GDP. India exported gems and jewellery worth $32.71 billion during 2017-18, which constitutes 15.71% of India’s merchandise exports. According to Pramod Agrawal, chairman of the Gems Jewellery Promotion Council (GJEPC), “We are a $41 billion industry and employ five million people. By 2022, we aim to raise that figure to seven million people.”  

Indians buy nearly 740 tonnes of gold ornaments per annum. The GJEPC, while promoting investment, skills and technology, should necessarily preserve the exclusiveness — the bewitching artistry of Indian jewellery. With sophisticated machines and cheap labour force, China mass-reproduces jewellery of different regions with stylisation. But the machines cannot create the artistry that comes from age-old skill and imagination. The future of Indian jewellery depends on the survival of this original artistry.

Durga puja and Ganesh puja across the country create jobs for thousands of clay idol makers belonging to Hindu and Muslim communities. More than one lakh Ganesh idols are made in Mumbai and Hyderabad alone. Like Diwali in the north, Durga puja in eastern India boosts the domestic market with sale of a wide range of products.

Ancient Cuttack city celebrates Ganesh puja, Saraswati puja, Kali puja, Durga puja, Kartikeswar puja, Lakshmi puja, Vishwakarma puja, etc. The artisans make episodes from the Mahabharata, the Ramayana and the Puranas, with interesting details. They instil finer human emotions: love, anger, pathos, pity and anxiety into the idols with intricate detail. Decades ago, the clay idols were made with such artistry that godliness could truly be invested in them. Low income and lack of social recognition let the clay artisans switch over to other professions. The puja committees of the city should spend more on quality clay work.

Threat to skill, artistry

Some 800 years ago, the king of Puri settled some Muslim artisans in Pipili village to make applique umbrellas, banners, flags and canopies for the rituals at the Lord Jagannatha temple. Today, the applique work is popular in the domestic market, but a few items, such as the garden umbrella, wall hangings and purses, etc., are even exported.

Lack of social recognition, abysmal ignorance about the craft’s artistry among officials and low wages threaten the applique tradition. Quality applique works are no longer seen on the chariots, banners, umbrella and fans during the Rath Yatra in Puri. The Jagannatha culture of Odisha also started the famous Odissi patta chitra, palm leaf carvings, stone carvings and Solapit work.

Similarly, the Sufi culture of Kashmir inspired rich craft traditions like papier mache, wood carvings, carpet weaving, etc. Genuine Kashmiri carpets made by skilled weavers sell at high prices in the global craft bazaar. Long unrest, social apathy, ignorance, loss of aesthetic sense among buyers and entry of cheaper quality products in the market threaten original handicrafts traditions of Kashmir.

Craft-making, weaving, tourism, horticulture and spices once flourished amid Hindu-Sufi-Muslim culture in the Valley. But everything fell apart when Kashmir slipped into the mono-culture trap in the 1980s and lost much of its composite culture.

Harvest festivals Onam, Pongal, Baisakhi, Raja Sankranti, Makar Sankranti, Gudi Padwa, Rongali Bihu and Nua Khai, etc., create demand for clothes, religious artefacts, ornaments, houses, consumer goods and varieties of eatables that activate money circulation in the economy. The majority of metal craft artisans of Moradabad belong to the Muslim community and make idols of gods, goddesses, religious artefacts, decorative and utility items.

Moradabad exports metal craft worth Rs 3,000 crore to the US, Britain, Germany, European countries, Canada and West Asia. The city can generate more employment and foreign currency if the government ensures transparency in raw material trade, prevents dumping of Chinese items, protects the skill and artistry of metal craft by giving more wage and social recognition to genuine artisans.

Indian creative art skills can boost export and employment if good governance removes corruption, cartels and middlemen from the supply chain. There is a need to shield Indian artisans from the unscrupulous trade practices in the name of globalisation. Traditional Indian culture inspires a gamut of micro economic activities and fosters peace, prosperity and communal harmony.

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