Government-NGO collaboration can spell success for the Kullu weaving industry

Weaving has been the mainstay of every Kullu-ite’s livelihood for generations now. A month long study by Anoop H, Shilpa Kendre, Jyothsna Sekar, Shilpi Baral from SP Jain Institute of Management of Research (Mumbai) in association with My Himachal reveals startling facts on the health of the traditional Kullu weaving industry. The advent of technology and the opening up of numerous employment avenues has left this industry reeling.

The number of weavers has reduced by around 50% over the last decade. More and more weavers are leaving the profession to jump over to occupations that promise them greener pastures. Those still sticking to weaving are migrating to Ludhiana, where they have the opportunity to work in a more organised environment. The power looms in Ludhiana, are swamping the industry with their mass production and low cost capabilities. A short survey amongst locals, tourists, weavers revealed the following startling facts.

— 38 % are unaware that Kullu Shawls are handcrafted

— 70 % could not differentiate between a handmade and a machine made shawl

— 72 % were ignorant of the Handloom Mark

— 0% of the respondents had seen any communication/ads on Kullu Shawls.

— 75% wanted product diversification in line with emerging fashion trends

— Most tourists are misguided into buying machine made shawls due to lack of authentic information

Thereby an awareness campaign aimed at spreading awareness on the situation in the industry, the GI, the handloom mark, etc is the need of the hour. The “Save the Weaver” campaign was initiated with this objective in mind. As a first step, the campaign targeted the print media covering all the local newspapers. It also targeted the online channel using the NGO’s website, blogs, mailers, etc. The HPTDC (Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation) has a lot of reach when it comes to communication and advertising within Himachal Pradesh and the students felt that the corporation should take an active step to spread awareness on the issue.

Presenting their findings before Mr. Prem Kumar Dhumal, the Honorable Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh, the students were of the opinion that a collaborative effort between the Government, NGOs and private entrepreneurs was required to save this industry. No single player could do it alone.

“Awareness is a major problem. We should take steps to improve awareness on this issue”, opined the Chief Minister.

The students impressed upon him, the need to bring together the industry in a more organized and unified setup. They also emphasized on the goldmine, namely the huge untapped demand and market potential that the industry was sitting on. Lack of awareness & market accessibility were the main problems.

“The government will provide you with whatever support you require. I am looking forward to seeing your report. We will take necessary steps after seeing your recommendations”, the CM asserted.

The CM also concurred with the students that the Tourism Industry needs to play an active role in spreading awareness on the Kullu Shawls. The majority of the customers for Kullu shawls are tourists after all.

The students were then directed towards the Principle Secretary, Govt. of Himachal Pradesh, Mr. Subhash Negi and the Secretary for Tourism, Mrs. Manisha Nanda. The IAS officers quickly understood the gravity of the problem and promised complete support from the Government. The secretary of Tourism noted the recommendations of the students and promised to incorporate the messages through HPTDC offices, hotels, brochures, hoardings, etc as part of the new Tourism campaign for Himachal Tourism.

“Your work should not stop here. You should come back next year to see if these recommendations are implemented”, opined Mr.Negi

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  1. Kullu shawl industry losing sheen
    Jagmeet Y Ghuman

    The Kullu shawl weaving industry is on downward slide and perhaps on the path to oblivion. According to information available, the number of weavers has declined by 50 per cent since the last census in 1995. This is an ample indication how the cash starved weavers are either choosing other job avenues to make their both ends meet or leaving the valley for greener pastures.

    The art, synonymous to Kullu valley’s beauty worldwide, is virtually dying slow death. The expectation from state government to web a hope of revival is like a water illusion amidst desert.

    The slump in weaving industry has in fact forced many weavers to shut up the profession in distress. Ironically, many Kullu weavers have opted to go to Ludhiana weaving units despite working condition there are quite adverse for them.

    Moreover, the lack of return from the profession has led the weavers turn to other quick means of income, especially during the tourist season, thus causing deficit in demand and supply. In Ludhiana, the working hours are fixed, hence shawls woven per day are more and therefore when paid on a piece wise basis, the weavers earn more there than in Kullu. This has resulted in forcing more migration of weavers from Kullu to Ludhiana.

    In a commendable gesture, MyHimachal, an NGO along with Anoop H. Jyothsna Sekar, Shilpa Kendre and Shilpi Baral the first year students of MBA in SP Jain Institute of Management & Research, Mumbai, launched a “save weaver” campaign recently. The students, with the help of My Himachal, have done an extensive survey of industry. They interacted with weavers by visiting their homes in interior of valley, found out the problems related to fall in industry and summed up the ways to revive the industry.

    While sharing their experiences the students said market accessibility is the main problem for the weavers in Kullu. The urban and international markets can be potential gold mines for this industry. But at present there is no mechanism there to market the shawl in national and international markets.

    As of now, exhibitions are the only means through which small players make their sales. The poor accessibility to market makes it difficult for them to sell their products year round. The inexpensive shawls from the Ludhiana market are sold as Kullu shawls in the Kullu market. The shawls are cheaper in Ludhiana due to local wool processing units leading to cheaper raw material, abundant availability of labour and mass production of shawls.

    Interestingly, the tourists who land up in Kullu, are usually convinced by the local autowallas to buy the machine made shawls under the name of Kullu shawls. Inquiries show that the auto and bus drivers get hefty commissions for taking tourists to the specific shops to buy these readymade shawls.

    In these circumstances it is need of hour to make the outsiders aware of the difference between a handcrafted shawl and a machine made one. One of the prime focuses should also to be educating the customers about the GI (Geographical Indicator) and the handloom mark.

    The government of India has introduced the handloom mark in order to help the customers differentiate between the handmade and machine made shawls. However, except for the large societies, this mark is not being used much. They are under the impression that the process of getting a handloom mark is very lengthy and time consuming but this not true.

    A geographical indicator under the name of ‘Kullu shawl’ has been registered in 2006 by the Kullu Shawl Weavers’ Association. This ensures that only handmade shawls made in Kullu are labeled as Kullu shawls. However, the GI has not been implemented so far making the threat from the Ludhiana shawls even worse. The logo for the GI itself has not yet been designed. The responsibility of the design lies with the Science & Technology Department of the state and the implementation responsibility on the Weavers’ association.

    The number of weavers in the valley has decreased from 28,500 (according to the 1995 census) to approximately 11,000. This is because the benefits of the schemes do not reach those at the grass root level and hence weavers are opting out of the industry and making it a seasonal industry by taking up weaving in their free time or in winters when sources of quick income dry up. The weaving business is fast becoming unviable.

    The entry of private players like Fab India, Bombay Store, etc have good national and international reach to directly source products from the weavers. In order to tap new markets, it is important to diversify into products like cushion covers, throws, stoles, tablecloths, curtains etc. while still maintaining the traditional Kullu pattern. Also, alternative raw material like silk and cotton yarn can be mixed and matched removing the over dependence on wool.

    In present scenario, the challenges before Kullu weavers are many. The most prominent among those is illiteracy. In fact, illiteracy makes these weavers oblivious to the extent of their own capabilities and skills. With the meager wages, inaccessible markets, threat from power looms, lack of entrepreneurial drive and the exploitation associated with illiteracy, the average weaver has a hand-to-mouth existence. Ironically, the weaver is gradually being pulled deeper into the spirals of poverty.

    Organising this scattered industry, although a Herculean task, would definitely help to make Kullu an export hub by catering to the huge demand in a more systematic way under the guidance of an apex body, pointed out the students. The entry of private players would also throw open the doors to bigger markets and better management of skilled labour. As far as tourist awareness is concerned, HPTDC (Himachal Pradesh Tourism & Development Corporation) can play a pivotal role. We are in touch with the tourism department who have agreed to help spread awareness on Kullu shawls through ads, hoardings and brochures advertising Himachal tourism, reveal the students.

  2. says: Rajneesh Sharma

    Nice report and analysis by Mr. Jagmeet Y Ghuman, very true. This is indeed an eye opener ..if need more insights then follow and chase records at Handicrafts Department at KULLU operated by MAFIA in the name of handicrafts promotion. The biggest scandal in this sector will get unearthed where hundreds of fraud NGO’s in the name of hand looms and handicrafts have eaten grants and funds released by ministry of textiles for weavers.

    More to misery, with ongoing nexus for more than a decade between so called Handicraft department and fraudsters..they even organize fake handicrafts bazaar where duplicate handicrafts and artifacts are showcased to fool coming public, selling made in china artificial products and machine made goods in name of handicrafts..every year such exhibitions are organised at Kullu and Manali..the department is run by Mafia..and these people in nexus with fraudsters have killed the real weaver..The Kullu shawls are extinct..and one day they will be left in museums if such menace of loot and corruption remains unchecked.

    All fraudsters should be booked and punished who swallowed funds and grants released…. in the name of weavers , mishandled funds should be recovered from them to be distributed genuinely to actual beneficiaries…then only justice with weavers will prevail and Kullu Shawls will be revived.

  3. says: Shivani

    U should visit bhuttico…..we here at bhuttico r saving our craft our traditional above all securing the future of weavers….

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