Srinagar: Braving all odds, a 29-year-old woman from Kashmir has taken up the daunting task to revive the once-famed handicraft numdha, the traditional embroidered rug which has over the years lost its sheen. Arifa Jan, belonging to a not-so-literate family in the summer capital here, followed her heart and pursued her dream of becoming a businesswoman, in the process working on the revival of numdha .
“I had no interest in a government job.I always wanted to have my own business.But in Kashmir it is very difficult to setup a business especially for a woman,” Arifa told PTI here. After her Bachelor’s degree in commerce from Kashmir University here, Arifa’s friend at Jammu and Kashmir government’s then newly setup Craft Development Institute (CDI) counselled her to take up a two-year Craft Management and Entrepreneurial Leadership programme.
Even as she enrolled herself, Arifa could not afford to pay her fee.
However, after seeing her talent, determination and zeal, CDI facilitated a grant for her provided by the then Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, which took care of her training.
Since then, there was no looking back for her.During the two-year course, Arifa also went to Kyrgyzstan for specialised training.
It was at the end of this programme that Arifa took as a challenge the daunting task of reviving the dying craft.
“I had to present a master project at the end of the degree and I choose to present the business plan for revival of numdha – Kashmir’s indigenous craft,” she said.
Numdha is a traditional felted Kashmir carpet, made by rolling and pressing wool by the application of moisture. Until some years, Kashmiri drawing rooms were furnished with numdhas in winters. There was once a huge local as well as national demand and the handicraft had a good export market.
However, the demand died down and exports declined in the past more than a decade. Arifa then decided to turn her project into a full-fledged venture and in the process help in reviving the craft by giving artisans their due. “I did some research and found out that lack of quality has led to reduction in its demand especially in foreign markets. So, I decided to explore ways to blend the traditional craft with modern innovations to suit it especially for the present-day modern market,” she said.
Having explored different production techniques and designs of numdha, Arifa mapped and studied new trends in the market. “I produced new designs of numdhas, and participated in an exhibition of handmade items in New Delhi. CDI sponsored the event. My designs attracted good clientele and everyone was impressed with my work,” she said.
However, as she planned to take the next step, she faced many challenges – from society to finances and motivating artisans.
“Being a woman, my venturing into business was not acceptable to many people. They used to say a lot and used to criticise me for becoming an entrepreneur.But I remained determined and focused,” she said, adding her family backed her idea.
But being from a poor family, Arifa had to seek financial help.
“I did not want to take a bank loan. Paying or receiving interest is forbidden in my religion, therefore a loan was not an option. Fortunately I got some help and then convinced artisans on new designs and innovative methods and that is how my venture – Incredible Kashmiri Crafts – came into being,” she said. “As of now, 25 artisans are working with me.I feel that majority of the artisans working in Kashmir do not get their due share despite hard work. So, I have increased their wages from Rs 175 a day to Rs 450 as their uplift is my priority,” Arifa said.
However, she believes that something needs to be done for sustaining the livelihood of the artisans.
“My aim is to help the artisans because it is they who are the force behind the success of Kashmir handicraft.I have introduced innovative ideas and new designs but the products are made using the traditional method.
“I use superior quality raw material, 100 per cent pure wool, use azo-free dyes which are not harmful,” she said.
Arifa said Kashmiri handicrafts are famous world over but focus should be on quality. “I have 100 per cent focus on quality.I work with dedication and believe in customer satisfaction,” she said.
It is these qualities that have resulted in Arifa becoming the first-ever Kashmiri woman to be nominated by the United States State Department for the Women Entrepreneurship Programme under which she was awarded US Citizenship Eligibility Certificate in 2014. “I was pleasantly surprised when I received a call from the US Embassy in New Delhi.Three girls from India, in a total of 16 world over, were nominated and I was the only one in the list who was selected for her ground work, ” she said.