Kashmir’s famed woodcarving art dying a silent death

From 50,000 a decade ago, number of woodcarvers shrinks to 4,000 at present

As clock strikes 9 AM, 53-year old Ghulam Qadir Sheikh – a woodcarver in a busy locality of Safa Kadal in old city sets out for a laborious day work.

Sheikh has been working at his workplace in a narrow lane at Danamazar in Safakadal here since his childhood. He starts his work at 9 AM daily and carves out intricate designs on walnut wood till late in the evening with a lone objective to feed his family. Despite his tiring work, Sheikh feels it difficult to make both the ends meet.
Growing age and falling health has of late been forcing Sheikh to skip his work but according to him this is not his only worry.
Sheikh who is president of Woodcarvers’ Association of Kashmir states that the craft of wood carving is facing serious challenge as the number of artisans affiliated with the trade is decreasing every passing day and new generation is shying away from the art.
“I am not worried of my health but sometimes I wonder what would happen to this famed art after some years when hardly there will be anyone in it,” Sheikh said.
“I have two sons. None is in this art. They do work as salesmen with some private shops but don’t want to come in this line,” he said.
Ask him the reason for young generation’s disinclination towards this art, he says: “Two decades back more than 50,000 families would eke out their earning from this trade. But with the declining wages, it has become difficult to sustain your family on this trade.”
“Now only 3,000 to 4,000 artisans are in this line. Rest of them are either dead or have left the craft because of less returns and limited market opportunities,” he said.
“Before eruption of armed struggle in Kashmir there was huge market for woodcarving. Foreigners used to throng our workplaces to see our work and buy our products,” he said, adding that the situation changed not for good.
“With the inception of armed struggle in Kashmir, tourists stopped to come here. Overnight our trade came under a big jolt,” he said.
“Our business dwindled and artisans started switching over to other jobs as the craft was not in a position to give them good returns for their work to feed their families,” he said.
As per woodcarvers, several other factors have also hit the woodcarving trade. “Young generation is not showing any interest due to less income, at the same time the state government is not coming up with any scheme that would incentivize woodcarving,” Mehraj ud Din- a woodcarver said.
He said the training centres run by Handicraft department have “failed even to train a single woodcarver leave aside reviving this trade.”
The artisans alleged that the handicraft department scheme ‘artisan credit card’ is a big trap for poor craftsmen because of high interest rates.

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