Stamp of support: Postal cover on Kashmir’s famed hand-knotted carpet

Plans underway to lift up dwindling trade with GI tag and QR code, restore customer confidence in authentic handicraft

August 21, 2021 06:32 pm | Updated 09:24 pm IST - Srinagar

Photo by special arrangement

Photo by special arrangement

Kashmir’s famed hand-knotted carpet, with its intricate and colourful floral patterns, adorned a special cover of the Indian Postal Service this week. This comes as a shot in the arm of the J&K Handicrafts and Handloom Department’s efforts to push for the Geographical Indication (GI) certification, upscale the dwindling trade, and restore its lost glory.

“The inclusion of Kashmir’s hand-knotted carpet as a postal cover will help educate people about GI tagging and reach a wide audience. The situation demands the building of trust and restoring consumer confidence to buy our authentic carpets,” Mahmood Ahmad Shah, Director, Handloom and Handicrafts Kashmir, told The Hindu .

To win over buyers, Mr. Shah said his department was planning to shift from the traditional label system to the Quick Response (QR) code for carpets.

“A buyer can use his mobile phone to know about the knots per inch, yarn and the material used. The buyer can also access the name of the craftsmen who wove it. It will reinforce the confidence of a buyer,” Mr. Shah said.

The Kashmir carpet faces tough competition internationally from carpet-exporting countries like China, Turkey and Belgium, and internally from carpets manufactured in Jaipur, Agra, Bhadohi and Amritsar.

‘Slump in sales’

Carpet export fell to ₹299 crore for 2019-2020, the Handicrafts Department’s figures show. According to one estimate, carpet exports stood at ₹369.81 crore in 2016-17.

“Yes, there is a slump in the sale of carpets. The fresh dip is due to the pandemic, which affected the export of carpets badly,” Mr. Shah said.

Around 80,000 local people are associated with carpet manufacturing in Kashmir, which saw a major jump in both manufacturing and exports post-1990, with the production going up from ₹84.55 crore in 1990-91 to ₹821.50 crore in 2016-16. But the figures have been sliding.

“We are also pushing for an organised sector for the carpet industry, which remains unorganised due to multiple processes like dying, weaving, etc. being done at separate places. Fresh interventions are likely to meet the demands of the market,” Mr. Shah said.

A lot of focus of the J&K government is discouraging the misbranding of Kashmir art and crafts. J&K’s Handicrafts Quality Control Act has armed the department with powers to promote GI labelling of products and stop the sale of machine-made items posing as hand-woven.

Famous for centuries, Kashmir’s carpet industry witnessed a boom under the 15th century ruler Zain-ul-Abidin, with weavers travelling from Persia and Central Asia to Kashmir, and the craft dominating western markets with its laborious and exquisite artwork.

In the 1990s, carpet weavers shifted their focus from woollen to silk carpets. “Silk carpets are in the luxury bracket. However, lack of silk processing units in Kashmir forced the weavers to buy [silk] from outside, which added to the cost of the carpet,” Mr. Shah said.

‘Discouraging sign’

Sheikh Ashiq, president of the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries, is worried about the future of silk carpets manufactured in Kashmir after a recent order by the Union Ministry of Commerce. “Silk and handmade carpets will get a Remission of Duties and Taxes on Exported Products (RoDTEP) at the rate of 1.2% against the earlier 5% under the Merchandise Exports from India Scheme. It’s a discouraging sign for the dying industry as most of the silk carpets are made in Kashmir,” Mr. Ashiq said.

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