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Why a Kashmir artisan body opposed Pashmina patent

Efforts to secure a Geographical Indicator (GI) patent for Kashmir Pashmina fell into rough weather with opposition from a Pakistan based trade body, and an artisan body from Indian administered Kashmir. While the Pakistan body insists for inclusion of Pashmina products from Pakistan administered Kashmir, the Srinagar based body of artisans says the patent application is flawed. Shahnawaz Khan reports.

Srinagar, March 01, 2008:

A Kashmiri woman spins pashmina on a spinning wheel in Kulgam
Kashmiri artisans say the fineness of handspun Pashimna is unmatched

Spun from the fleece of Pashmina goat Capra Hircus found in Himalayas, Kashmir boasts of producing the finest quality of Pashmina through a tedious manual process that originated here.

No wonder that Pashmina and its variants became popular in the West as Cashmere, a name inspired by Kashmir.

In August 2006, the GI patent registry based in south Indian city of Chennai admitted a patent application from Srinagar based Craft Development Institute for Kashmir Pashmina, Sozni Embroidery and Kani Shawl, all Pashmina related products.

Although many countries including China, Nepal, Pakistan, and Australia produce Cashmere or Pashmina today, experts say Kashmir's traditional product is still the best.

What is more, brand Kashmir, built over hundreds of years, is what sells.

However, Kashmir's Pashmina industry has benefited little from its name and finds it hard to compete with lower priced products and fakes from other regions.

"For a customer it is difficult to find what is real and what is fine, especially when everything is sold under the same name. So the finest Pashmina which is expensive has to give in to a lower quality product sold cheaply under the same label," says Bashir Ahmad Bhat, a handicrafts dealer in Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian administered Kashmir.

Srinagar has for centuries been the centre of Pashmina weaving and spinning.

To secure the future of Kashmir Pashmina, the Srinagar based Craft Development Institute (CDI), a body backed by the Indian government, applied for a Geographical Indicator patent for Kashmir Pashmina, Sozni Embroidery and Kani Shawl, all three Pashmina related products.

A Geographical Indicator patent gives exclusive rights over a label to a specified product produced in a specified geographical region.

Muhammad Shariq Farooqi, Director CDI says that the patent application should have gone much earlier.

"Pashmina has become a generic name. Nepal says it is producing Pashmina, China says it is producing Pashmina. We should have protected the name earlier. So we are already late. The application should have gone ten years earlier," says Farooqi.

A lack of standardised specifications makes a patent more important. In the north Indian city Amritsar, for example, many fakes and low quality products are sold as Pashmina.

These products have of late infiltrated into genuine Pashmina outlets of Kashmir.

In August 2006 the patent registry based in the south Indian city of Chennai admitted the application from CDI.

It met opposition from the Pakistan based Rawalpindi Chamber of Commerce, and from a Srinagar based artisan body, Kashmir Handmade Pashmina Promotion Trust (KHPPT).

Though its objections to two of the three patent applications reached late, the Pakistani body asks for inclusion of products from Pakistan administered Kashmir in the patent.

"We have not been notified of Pakistan's objections to Kashmir Pashmina and Kani Shawl by the patent registry, because it has reached them late," says Farooqi.

"Their objections to Sozni Embroidery have reached in time and we have been notified of that. However we have heard the registry has written to Rawalpindi Chamber asking for reasons for being late."

It was the KHPPT objections that reached the registry in time and stalled the patent process for Kashmir Pashmina.

The KHPPT is a body of Pashmina weavers in Srinagar, most of them previously Shahtooh weavers, backed by an NGO Wildife Trust of India (WTI).

KHPPT says CDI's patent application is flawed in many respects.

Ashfaq Ahmad Matoo, a member of WTI and a spokesman for the KHPPT says that, in the first place, under GI rules a patent can go only to a body of concerned artisans and not to a government institute unconcerned with the trade.

Plus the KHPPT is asking for inclusion of hand spun Pashmina yarn and not just the shawl in the patent, besides exclusion of machine made products.

It is ironical that they had not included the yarn that makes Kashmir Pashmina exclusive, Matoo says.

"It is only in Kashmir that the yarn is spun by hand. In all other places it is mechanised. The quality of that yarn is so fine, that sometimes it cannot be seen by a naked eye. It is this yarn which takes our product to a different level altogether," Matoo explains.

Farooqi admits that some of the objections were genuine.

"We knew it should have gone to artisans, and in fact we have organised a body of artisans called Tahafuz, but because we didn't want to lost more time, so we went ahead with the patent application," Farooqi says.

He however thinks that exclusion of machine made products may face objections from industry as it means traders cannot meet big orders in time.

KHPPT however is adamant and wants no compromise on the quality.

"We are not against the industrial product but that should be sold under a different name. Kashmir Pashmina should only refer to the finest product spun and woven by hand," Matoo says.

The KHPPT adds only securing the handmade product can only secure the livelihood of thousands of Pashmina weavers and spinners.

Thousands of artisans are associated with the trade, with women folk doing most of the spining work, before men weave the delicate yarn into the warm soft touch garment

The catch, in fact lies in the quality of the final product.

The machine intervention enhances production capacity but makes compromises on quality.

Ghulam Muhammad Malla, a Pashmina weaver in Srinagar says that the fine handspun yarn is too delicate for a machine.

The artisans handle the delicate yarn with utmost care as they weave it into a shawl.

The weavers have also been hit by the sub standard products.

"Our wages have fell drastically because of machine made products coming from Amritsar. Also now the Amritsar yarn which is not Pashmina is being brought here and woven here, and passed off as Kashmiri product," says Malla.

Improving the lot of artisans who unlike traders live on small wages is the next challenge after the patent, says Matoo.



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