Jaipur, Oct 23 (IANS) If local artisans are to be believed, they are passing through the worst crisis of their lives with the global slowdown impacting their export orders and the recently levied taxes on textiles opening up export avenues for neighbouring nations.
This has left them limited to just one option, which is, to serve the domestic markets which is yet again not that robust as it once was. As a result, several clusters in Rajasthan buzzing with block printing activities throughout the day have now turned silent with skilled hands slowly drifting away from their traditional profession.
According to Ram Kishore Chippa, a renowned artisan from Bagru in Rajasthan and a Padmashri awardee (2009), “we had around 500 families who were engaged in block printing trade. However, the number of skilled artisans is falling each day as we don’t have many orders. It’s just 60 per cent of the orders we have in our hands as compared to the last five years. Out of these many orders will be cancelled,” he says.
“Our next generation is slowly drifting to other professions as they see there is no future for the artisans involved in this legacy. We want the government to turn its attention towards exports which will bring in decent foreign exchange earnings and shall also create jobs,” he says.
Chippa also has another worry. He says, “neighbouring countries like Bangladesh, Pakistan and Turkey are leveraging the situation and flooding the foreign markets with their textiles which once were export hubs of Indian textiles. However, high taxes on our textiles have affected our exports which have affected us indirectly,” he adds.
“Earlier, there was incentive on export, further, GST and taxes have been levied on textiles for the first time after Independence, which is a surprise as textiles is the second biggest industry after agriculture generating jobs for lakhs of people. Heavy taxes in this sector is killing us,” he says.
“As a result, the cost of Made in India textiles has increased substantially giving ample opportunity to the neighbouring countries to supply them at a cheaper rate and therefore their products are now flooding the foreign markets,” he says adding that “I have attended many markets and seen Bangladesh leading the race in textiles which is followed by Pakistan.”
Another artisan from Balotra Mohammad Yaseen also expresses concern over the market slowdown and dwindling exports which presents a bad scenario for his family which has been engaged in the profession of block printing since the last five generations.
Once, there were hundreds of families engaged in block printing here. Now, it’s just our family of 32 members who are engaged in this trade. Rest have shifted their work, he says adding that Kataar, a local design which was once printed on cotton here, has now shifted to machines and cotton has been substituted by synthetic material killing the jobs of many families. Diwali a few years back meant lumpsum orders for us. However, this time, orders have reduced substantially even from domestic firms, he adds.
Artisan Abdul Ghani from Jaipur has similar concerns on generation next losing their connect with their rich legacy, looking at the glittering new-age professions. He says that his younger son has gone into a medical stream and has become a doctor. He wanted to get into a different stream other than block printing. However, Ghani is satisfied with the domestic orders his firm is getting which is keeping him occupied.
Chippa added that block printing in Bagru symbolised women empowerment also. Sitting in their homes, women were earning around Rs 9000 per month for just a few hours’ work. Women from all castes got jobs through block printing. However, few orders mean few jobs for these women too, he says adding, “which means a poor future for their family and kids.”
It’s the domestic market which has saved us or else we too would have gone unemployed, Chippa says. “However, it is yet again not that great as it used to be earlier.”
“Around 300 companies who were engaged in exports and were giving orders to us have now started working with domestic firms which have safeguarded our artistry. Had the domestic market not been strong, our block printing art would have become a dying art with no takers left for this rich artistry,” he says.
Rajasthan traditionally has been strong in exports of handicrafts, gems and jewellery, dimensional stones, agro products, and textile products. The top five export items from Rajasthan accounting for nearly two-thirds of exports from the State are textiles (including readymade garments), gems and jewellery, engineering goods, chemical and allied products (including tyres), and handicrafts.