Mohammad Aslam Bhat’s copperware shop near Khanqah-e-Moala has been shut for the past one month. A master craftsman, he was known for making different items ranging from lamp-shades to motifs of valley-based shrines.
However, orders have dried up and he has not been sitting home due to the ‘Corona Curfew’.
Bhat is not an isolated case. Like him, the artisan community is anxiously waiting for relaxation in lockdown so that they could resume their work and support their families.
“Some have this wrong notion that artisans can easily work from their homes during a lockdown. But, how do we procure raw material in the lockdown and how do we sell our products? Despite appeals from our representative bodies, we have not received any assistance from the government. And so far, there has been no relaxation so that we can resume our businesses. Artisans are suffering a lot, especially the ones that live hand to mouth,” Bhat told The Kashmir Monitor.
He said even during the last year’s lockdown, most of the artisans did not receive assistance from the government.
“Last year, we were asked to submit our registration numbers after which only some women self-help groups got relief. But, other artisans did not get any assistance. This year too, all artisans are sitting idle at home as the markets are shut. There are lots of women artisans that have families to feed and they suffer in silence,” he said.
Well-known Pashmina activist Dr. Babar Afzal said during a lockdown there were no takers for luxury products and as a result the artisans were going through tougher times.
“There is a big issue of demand as nobody buys luxury or fancy items during a lockdown. Artisans have no work or business these days as there is no communication. There is a process of procuring raw material and selling products….but the process is at a halt as everything is in a retrench mode,” Babar told The Kashmir Monitor.
He said not just the Pashmina workers, but the artisan community, in general, has been badly hit due to the lockdown.
Several traders’ bodies including the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries (KCC&I) have urged the government to ease the lockdown. KCC&I has asked the government to sanction monthly monetary benefits in favor of artisans, small-time shopkeepers, transporters, roadside vendors, and industrial laborers that were among the worst affected.