Project to convert Kashmir’s oldest silk factory into heritage centre beset with ‘many problems’

Project to convert Kashmir’s oldest silk factory into heritage centre beset with ‘many problems’

Srinagar: An official project to convert into a heritage site the 122-year-old silk factory (‘resham khana’) in Solina area of Srinagar is mired in Kashmir’s complicated officialdom. There is no clear chain of command among several government departments involved in the project, which the World Bank is funding, and the result is that the factory continues to go to seed while officials plead helplessness.

The oldest silk factory of Kashmir was once known throughout the world. Hundreds of workers produced almost 10 thousand tonnes of silk in a year in this factory in its heydays. The silk made here was exported to many countries. Now, though, things have changed unrecognisably.

The factory was set up in 1897 by Dogra ruler Maharaja Pratap Singh with the help of Sir Thomas Wardle, president of the Silk Association of Great Britain, who was impressed by Kashmir’s high quality of silk.

Abdul Majeed, who works in the factory, says his grandfather and parents also worked in the same factory. “When I was a kid, my parents told me about the history of this factory. A lot of Kashmiri people earned their livelihood through this factory at one time. Many countries bought the products of this factory. In the ’90s the factory was closed due to heavy losses. Recently the authorities re-opened it but due to the non-serious attitude of the government towards the factory, it has been dying a slow death,” Majeed said.

When the factory was shut down in the ’90s, thousands of artisans, workers and cocoon farmers lost their livelihood. The buildings of the factory seem like haunted ruins now. In the past the beauty of these buildings alone attracted the attention of many visitors. The buildings are made of wood, stone and bricks but now without any maintenance and having suffered much damage, they have lost all their beauty.

In the devastating floods of 2014, the three cocoon storage units in the factory were badly affected. Their situation remains the same. No repair or renovation has been carried out. Some other units of the factory have been converted into offices of government departments.

Ghulam Mohammed Bhat, who is in charge of the factory, said, “In the ’90s during militancy in Kashmir, the authorities decided to close the factory after facing heavy losses. In 2018 when the authorities re-opened the factory, it was the happiest moment for us. But again after a few months we faced the double lockdown in 2019 and 2020. Due to the closure of the factory for almost three decades, the people of the valley, especially our new generation, are not much aware of this profession.”

He added, “We have problems of staff and workers here. We bring 20-22 private non-local workers from Bengal to make silk in this factory during the main season.”

In 2019 the authorities announced plans to convert the historic silk factory into an art and cultural center. A team of the World Bank had visited the site and seen the factory in a shambles. They proposed restoration of the factory and developing it into a cultural and heritage centre.

Director of Archives, Archaeology and Museums, Munir-ul-Islam, said, “Yes, the authorities have announced to turn the silk factory into an art center. Also, the land will be declared a heritage site. We are not working on this project; it is the JK Industries department which is in charge.”

Officials of the Industries department said on this matter, “The project is under the World Bank. The work has not been started yet because experts are still designing and making the drawings. The project is divided into different stages. It will take a lot of time to convert everything there. We face many problems at the site because it is not only one department but many other departments also involved.”

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