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A crafts initiative from Kashmir makes an impact through its unusual collaborations

Products designed through the Commitment to Kashmir project.

Last week, the initiative Commitment to Kashmir (CtoK) won the Lexus Design Award India 2019. The award, presented at the Pune Design Festival in the Social Impact Category, has been a worthy one, given that it has been an arduous journey, despite floods and curfews in the region. In 2011, LC Jain, a Gandhian activist, who was also close to Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay, wrote to Gulshan Nanda, former Chairperson of Central Cottage Industries Emporium, and Laila Tyabji, Founder, Dastkar, saying they should start some creative activity for artisans in Kashmir, which had seen political upheaval for years. With the Crafts Council of India, Craft Revival Trust, and members of the Jain family was born CtoK, a project that would mentor and monitor craft entrepreneurs.

The support of the Crafts Development Institute, Srinagar, was vital in selecting young Kashmiri craftspeople. Shruti Jagota Mittal, who heads the project, says, “We have seen craftspeople improve their quality of life. Over the years, we’ve helped rebuild workshops, given marketing support and brought their works to exhibitions such as Dastkar, which also gives us marketing and administration support. While we incubate entrepreneurs, Dastkar incubates CtoK.”

Even if they saw a lull in outreach during the 2014 floods and in 2016-2017, during the Burhan aftermath, Mittal testifies to the many workshops they did for the craftspeople — from costing and colour to photography.

“In 2017, Titan came on board to support the initiative. We went the whole mile with 22 entrepreneurs across skills, from copper and embroidery to papier mache and walnut wood,” says Mittal. They presented at the recent Dastkar Nature Bazaar, and will travel to the Jaipur Literature Festival. For instance, in papier mache, she informs, “We introduced different textures and colours, charcoal and turmeric. It gave a cement finish to the products, even as they felt really light. Similarly, we got two artisans to work with studio Coppre from Pune. The Kashmiris not only learnt new techniques but were also introduced to new polishes and brushes for their process.”

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“Craft is a catalyst, especially in disaster and conflict zones. People feel vulnerable and particularly in Kashmir it’s also psychological. But then with craft interventions, when their products are valued and appreciated for their beauty, artisans develop confidence. In my 40 years in this sector, Kashmir has been the toughest workplace, because one never knows when there is a curfew or shut down,” says Tyabji.

Mittal is hopeful that the initiative will always melt the boundaries they’ve made for themselves. “CtoK has inspired entrepreneurs to work together as a collective, which until now was unheard of. Each family worked in its own silos. Now the copper artisan is ready to work with his wood and embroidery counterpart, even represent them at fairs, which means there is hope for Kashmir’s crafts. The next generation also wants to contribute,”
she says.