Pathankot, located 200 km north of Chandigarh in Punjab, may soon be regarded as a place of distinction on the industrial map of India. Handicrafts produced by women artisans of the region have caught the fancy of the district administration as well as a non-government organisation, and this may lead to the formation of a cluster.
These women have for years been producing intricate and colourful embroidery in the remote villages of Niari, Salti and Dunara – close to the hill town of Dalhousie in Himachal Pradesh – in Pathankot district.
But low levels of awareness and mobility have kept them confined to their households, and at the mercy of traders. As a result, their earnings have been paltry. The women in this belt work for traders, middlemen and shopkeepers from Jammu, Amritsar and Pathankot.
According to the sub-divisional magistrate (SDM) of Panthankot, Ravinder Walia, “Being a district bordering Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir, this pocket of Punjab did not develop industrially. Agriculture remains the main source of livelihood.”
He added that the low level of education has also prevented the people from seeking the benefits of various government schemes, while industry has stayed away from this area.
“Unlike other parts of Punjab, farmers here have not reaped the profits of escalation in land cost. So, we approached an NGO – Patiala Handicraft Workshop Cooperative Society (PHWCS) – to mobilise the women and organise them to form a cluster,” Walia said.
The sarpanch of Dunara village, Usha Rani, said women artisans are exploited by traders, who pay poorly as well as delay the payments. The unorganised artisans have no bargaining power and do not know the art of negotiation. As a result, they are sometimes paid only half of what is committed to them, she added.
Aafter an extensive survey conducted in 12 villages of the district, PHWCS has shortlisted nearly 1,000 women to be registered as artisans in the society. It already has over 8,000 registered artisans engaged in embroidery and stitching, located in the Patiala-Rajpura belt in Punjab.
Rekha Mann, the secretary of the PHWCS, said that the society envisages replicating the success of the SFURTI (Scheme for Regeneration of Traditional Industry) project initiated by the KVIC (Khadi and Village Industry Commission) for the promotion of phulkari (the traditional embroidery of Punjab) in 2007.
She said the Rajpura cluster has been shortlisted for development as an innovation centre under the Prime Minister’s Innovative Cluster Scheme. It is one of four chosen from out of 79 clusters across the country by the ministry of micro, small and medium enterprises.
“Women’s empowerment by self-employment is a movement and we hope to reach out to more women. So we want to develop the Pathankot cluster on the same lines. A common facilitation centre would be set up on the land facilitated by one of the village panchayats,” she said.
Mann explained that women in the belt are keen to learn and upgrade their embroidery skills. They are also good at Kullu and Kashmiri embroidery. “We will promote phulkari designs. Artists from NIFT, Gandhinagar have been hired to explore a blend of Kashmiri embroidery and phulkari.”
Working from home, women artisans in PHWCS earn between Rs 1,500 and Rs 5,000 a month. Mann said she envisages bringing the same empowerment for the women of the Pathankot belt.
Details of the artisans have been drawn up and sent for verification to the SDM and the sarpanches of their respective villages, she said, adding that there was no dearth of funds for viable projects.