Gulam Mohammed Bhat
Once Pashmina artisans were a prosperous community, whose art was considered unique, painstaking yet respectable in the ancient society. Craftsmen were self-sufficient, highly skillful, and immensely talented people who lead the Kashmiri economy to be a rising one. It all started when a Sufi saint Syed Ali Hamdani came from Persia with more than 700 craftsmen who trained locals in several crafts - one of them being Pashmina. This changed Kashmir forever. Be it the social setup or financial standing, Kashmir saw improvement in all realms. This gave rise to popular industries, and hence employment increased and Kashmir was almost independent of all dependencies. In fact, people from Europe came to visit Kashmir from shopping for these handmade crafts besides enjoying the picturesque scenic beauties in the valley. The most famous and widely spread craft was Pashmina making. Raw wool came from Ladakh and Kashmiri women sorted and cleaned it to hand spin it later over traditional Charkha. Then men of the family would take the spun yarn and weave it over a traditional handloom. Later embroidery artisans would embroider shawls and that is how one single shawl would engage as many as 30 men with itself. When compared to today's scenario, the picture has changed quite a lot, thanks to power looms, which snatched the livelihood of those artisans who used to work with hand. Some artisans switched to jobs, some became totally irrelevant and some lost confidence enough to never work again. Yet there were some who never lost hope, and even after getting a poor salary, continued to work with Pashmina, with their own hands. Meet Ghulam Mohammed Bhat, a 70-year-old artisan, who is a master of hand embroidery who spent his childhood watching his uncles hand embroidering Pashmina. He had an inclination towards embroidery and soon learned it from them. Bhat was such a talented person that apart from Pashmina, he hand-embroidered Shahtoosh (before it was banned). Note that Shahtoosh fibre has a diameter of lesser than 10 microns and embroidering it is a great challenge. But Bhat could do it easily, but it was Pashmina who kept him content and financially stable. With the advent of the power loom, master skilled artisans like Bhat faced the brunt. While the power looms did double the work than handlooms, hand embroidery artisans were pressurized to work double yet paid not even half of it.
Bhat and Pashmina.com
As per Bhat, the cruellest event in every hand artisan's life was the machine. He says that machines snatched the livelihood f artisans and all they could do was watch their opportunities slip from their hands. Bhat wants us to reintroduce handmade Pashminas and hand embroidery so that they get their lost prestige and glory back.