During the chilled winters which freeze blood shells of devotees for last one week in Prayagraj Kumbh Mela, Gulzar Ahmad Reshi’s Kashmiri shawls are getting special attraction. Over 200 to 300 visitors he gets every day at his stall in the Kumbh Mela. Though, Gulzar also offers embroidered handloom cotton and silk suits, however, shawls have fascinated the devotees coming for taking a ‘holy dip’ in the cold waters in the Sangam of Ganges, Yamuna and mythological river, Saraswati.
Many of the visitors purchase shawls to tackle cold waves and rains, a result of western disturbance over the Indo-Gangetic plains across northern India. Though the sky is clear for last three days, but cold waves are still pushing the visitors to Gulzar’s stall in the One District One Product (ODOP) pavilion, to find a solution.
Recognised by Ministry of Textile, Government of India, Gulzar, in his 40’s, runs a small cottage industry for manufacturing Kashmiri shawls and working on embroidery on Kashmiri handloom cotton and silk suits for men and women in Pahalgam, a tourist town in the Kashmir valley. With four handloom machines and 10 charkhas (spinning wheel), his unit does spinning and weaving on his own for shawls which employs over 20 artisans. Continuing family business, Gulzar and his brother have developed a model of entrepreneurship in the remote rural Kashmir while providing livelihood opportunities to the artisans also.
Speaking on his operations, Gulzar said, “I run a full time shop in Pahalgam and 6-month seasonal shop in Lucknow in the winters. They generate average sale of around Rs 30 lakh to Rs 35 lakh annually. But, due to costly raw material and operational expenditure, I face big challenge of generating benefits to that level where I can double my manufacturing unit which can employee at least 40 people and help me provide reasonable wages to the artisans. The artisans on an average are earning around Rs 350 per day which creates challenges for their survival.”
“The low wages are discouraging the artisans to continue the work. And therefore, I want the government to provide incentives on creating necessary infrastructure and on raw materials,” he added.
For shawls, he does spinning and weaving on his own while for working on embroidery on suits, he purchases Khadi and silk fabrics from outsides.
Unemployment has become a big challenge in the remote rural areas which creates rural distress. Considering the agricultural and rural distress, the governments at the Centre and in states need to promote and incentivise such cottage industries. It will necessarily change the face of rural economy.