SRINAGAR: Old Srinagar appears to be on the brink of losing its traditional hubs of aari embroidery, as artisans have been giving up the craft for want of better returns.
Most artisans inhabiting old city’s Safa Kadal and Nawab Bazar localities—the traditional hubs of the aari embroidery in Kashmir Valley–have switched over to other trades on account of meager returns and the rule of middlemen. In Safa Kadal’s Lattar Masjid area, a few elderly artisans of Aari embroidery are struggling to keep the craft alive.
Mohammad Ashraf Wani, 55, who has been doing Aari embroidery for 45 years, said nearly 95 per cent of the artisans have quit the line.
“Over the years, this traditional trade has failed to sustain them (artisans) well,” he said.
“We can’t even tell our children to further our line of trade; they are hardly into it (aari embroidery). They rightly ask us: ‘Our monthly mobile bill is around Rs 2,000, why should we do such a petty-income work?’” he said.
“They aren’t wrong. Who will marry them if they stick to our ancestral trade? It barely fetches us Rs 100 a day, even after putting in 12 to 14 hours of daily work.”
Recently, the government, in order to give the craft a boost, offered Rs 90,000 low-interest loan to each artisan. The initiative, however, didn’t prove fruitful.
“Availing the loan is a laborious task,” Ghulam Ahmad Dar, an artisan, said. “We were first told that the interest rate is only 2.5 per cent, but later we were asked to pay at 13 per cent rate. It discouraged many of us.”
For Dar, whose eyesight has been rendered weak by 40 years of aari embroidery, switching to other lines of trade seems next to impossible.
“Our worsening condition often triggers heated arguments at our homes. I too want to switch over to other line of work, but given my age and health condition, I can’t,” he said. According to the artisans, another major factor affecting this handicraft is the control of middlemen.
“As long as middlemen continue to call shots, the artisans are bound to suffer,” Farooq Ahmad Nadaf, an artisan from Safa Kadal, said.
The “coterie of middlemen”, Nadaf said, doesn’t let an artisan to approach the market on his own.
“That’s why the middlemen, also known as distributors, end up having the lion’s share, while artisans’ condition becomes even more miserable,” he said.
In nearby Noor Bagh area, 57-year-old Ghulam Mohidin once had a team of artisans working under him at Baghwanpora. Now, the elderly artisan works all alone.
“This trade could have retained many people, if only it guaranteed good income. Unfortunately, it doesn’t hold any promise now,” he said.
Yaqoob Mir, in his mid twenties, was into aari embroidery artisan until two years ago, when he quitted the craft.
“I quitted because there is no future in it,” he said.