Srinagar: One of Kashmir's oldest handicraft legends and legacy, the pashmina, is threatened by its imitations as the high-priced handmade fabric is increasingly being eased out from markets by its cheap, machine-made namesake.
There are laws in Jammu and Kashmir to protect the pashmina shawl, which was once presented by Napoleon Bonaparte to his lady love, Josephine.
The laws protecting the genuine pashmina shawl are observed more in their breach as the machine-made rival is giving a run for its money to the original handmade pashmina.
Local artisans allege that scores of influential traders have introduced spinning machines and power looms despite a ban imposed upon their use by the government.
"Wealthy traders, who have strong connections, are manufacturing machine-made pashmina but the authorities don't seem to bother. The laws and bans are merely on paper," local artisan Muhammad Shaba told IANS.
"Moreover, this spurious pashmina gives a bad name to the original handmade Kashmiri pashmina which is known for its superior quality all over the globe," he added.
Pashmina is a woolen cloth made from the fleece of the "Capra haircus" Himalayan mountain goat, often referred to as the "pashmina goat"
A testing centre had been setup by the union commerce ministry at the Crafts Development Institute (CDI) at the Baghi Ali Mardan Khan here for testing the purity and genuineness of handmade pashmina.
The CDI is an autonomous body created by the central and state governments to promote handicrafts in the state. But local artisans allege that the centre exists only in its name.
"The establishment of a testing centre is basically useless as it was never started (became operational). The only thing there is a building with a bunch of fancy equipment inside but it was never put to work, no quality checking has ever taken place there, it's a wastage of resources," Rouf Ahmad Qureshi, president of the Kashmir Pashmina Karigar Union (KPKU), told IANS.
When asked, the Director (Handicrafts) Gazanfar Ali claimed that the government aimed to promote genuine handmade pashmina and the testing centre is a huge step in that direction.
"Our effort is to remove all fake handicrafts being sold in the state in Kashmir's name. To start with, spurious pashmina shawls would be replaced by the Kashmir-patented hand-woven original pashmina shawls. This would make genuineness rule the roost in pashmina manufacturing in the state and will also ensure respect and substantial remuneration to the weavers," Gazanfar said.
"Kashmir pashmina was registered under the Geographical Indications (GI) of Goods Act of India and establishment of the testing centre is a vanguard step to stop fake and unscrupulous trade in the handicrafts sector. It is an initiative towards the promotion of the Kashmiri pashmina and would benefit the pashmina industry of the Valley," he added.
"Over the last few decades, Some Kashmiri pashmina traders are bringing disrepute to the Kashmir pashmina by selling fake products coming from different States," Gazanfar said.
"Handloom artisans in the country enjoy protection under the Handloom (Reservation of Articles for Production) Act, 1985. It needs to be extended/enacted in Jammu and Kashmir to include pashmina as a protected item. Pashmina products should have labels to display price and constituent materials, and should indicate whether it is hand-made or not," Qureshi contended.
The Pashmina Testing and Quality Certification Centre (PTQCC) was sanctioned under the Assistance to State for Infrastructure Development of Exports (ASIDE) scheme by the union commerce ministry and Rs.4.40 crore was provided for its establishment. The authorities claimed that they have fined a lot of traders for selling fake pashmina products.
"The machine-made shawls pose a serious threat to the centuries-old shawl industry of Kashmir, known all around the world. Because of a painstaking process, which is done completely by hand, pashmina shawls, stoles, scarves, sweaters and blankets are famous for their high-quality fabric and looks," artisan Wali Muhammad, who has been associated with spinning and weaving of pashmina for the last 35 years, told IANS.
"Traders are mixing some other fabric to it so that it could survive powerloom vibrations. The industry is already under serious threat because fake shawls, particularly from Amritsar and other places, are being sold in the name of Kashmiri products with the government not making any effort to stop this," Wali added.
The locals lament that the use of spinning looms to produce machine-made pashmina is threatening their livelihood as well as bringing disrepute to Kashmiri pashmina.