Pottery Fades In Kashmir Amidst Lack Of Youth Interest

Pottery Fades In Kashmir Amidst Lack Of Youth Interest

23 January 2012
Global Press Institute
Afsana Bhat

Zangam: Mohammad Subhan, 75, has been in the pottery business for more than 40 years in Zangam, a village in Jammu and Kashmir state. But he says that the industry isn’t what it used to be. “The art has of course declined to a large extent,” he says. Subhan leaves his house at around 8:30 a.m. to sell his pottery in adjoining areas, such as Shoodpora, Hanjeevera and Buren, and places farther away in the district, such as Kunzer, Tangmarg and Uri. He sells his goods in exchange for grain and grass. He finishes his work by 1 p.m. and carries his earnings back home. “This is my earning for a day,” he says, pointing at the grain and grass. “In morning, I carried vessels on my shoulders to sell them and in evening brought grass and grain on shoulders in return. This is how our life goes on.” Subhan says that potters’ work declines to a large extent during the winter months because of the harsh weather. “During winters, we mostly work on old stuff that has been left over,” he says, referring to extra raw materials. “For remaining part of winter season, we are jobless.” His wife assists him in his work, but he says his four children aren’t interested in it at all. After completing 10th grade, his son began working as a laborer. His eldest daughter is married. His youngest children are studying in school. Making pottery has provided a livelihood for various families in the region for generations. But they admit the industry is declining because of a fall in demand for their goods. Members of the younger generation say they aren’t interested in carrying it forward. Still, potters say they hope the tradition will continue, as the government offers schemes to support artisans. In an impoverished area of Zangam village, a group of 15 households are all involved in the pottery industry. The art has been handed down for generations, but villagers say it is now declining. Mohammad Sultan, the village head, says that the community has been associated with this art for generations, although he retired from it a couple of years ago. Explaining how to make pottery, Sultan says that the potters use a special kind of soil that they obtain from the hills. “Then women sift it – take out roots, grass and twigs from it – pour water over it and make it as a fine mixture,” he says. “Later, men make articles out of it.” They make the articles on a potter’s wheel and then dry the goods in the sunlight. Later, they heat the goods in a kiln for two to three days, putting cow dung in between the articles to hasten the heating process. “We’ve to purchase wood for heating purpose, and these kilns are in our compounds,” Sultan says. “Two or three families share a kiln.” But some villagers say this causes health problems. “The smoke that comes out of these kilns is injurious to health, and we face health problems like asthma,” says local Sarwar Begum, a common last name here. She adds that during the summer season, the outdoor kilns create an especially smoky environment in the compounds. But she says it’s inevitable. “We’ve no option,” she says. She says that the government should provide them with chimneys. Mohammad Ramzan Kumar, a father of three children, is also a potter in Zangam. “We are landless laborers and are dependent on this art for our sustenance,” he says. He says that men usually make the pottery articles on potters’ wheels, and women carry them over their heads in a big basket to find customers to sell them to in neighboring areas. “We make these articles for about a month,” he says. “Then we sell them in adjacent villages, including Buren, Pattan, Trikolbal, Hanjeevera Payeen and others.” Generally, women assist men in their work. In a bartering system that echoes centuries past, they collect grains, fodder, beans, peas, maize, vegetables and, in rare cases, cash in exchange for the pottery goods. “Mostly, my wife goes out to sell these goods,” Kumar says. “But due to chill outside these days, I myself prefer to go out.” The seasonal work runs from April to November. “Due to harsh winter from December to March, we stop work,” he says. “Temperature isn’t feasible for it. Some of us work as laborers for winter months.” In addition to weather, he says that newer products also reduce the pottery market. “Goods made of steel and plastics have posed a great challenge to us,” Kumar says. But he says that pots, plates, flower vases, money containers and “kundals,” the inner earthen part of Kashmiri fire pots used during the winter, are still in use and in demand. He says his family usually earns 100 to 150 rupees ($2 to $3) per day during the summer. “It is up to God what we’ll earn,” he says. Sundar Begum, a local resident, says earnings aren’t much when it comes to selling pottery because of a diminishing demand. “Gone are those days when these goods were in high demand,” she says. “Today, it has no market, and there are no takers for these articles.” Begum and her sister, Khateeja Begum, inherited the pottery tradition from their father. The sisters both married into families who were engaged in pottery as well. Remembering what they call the “good old days,” they say that they used to leave early in the morning to sell these articles and return late evening after making many sales. They even used to travel to Srinagar, the state’s summer capital. “We used to go up to Srinagar to sell these articles,” Khateeja Begum says. But she says that’s no longer the case. “With passage of time and introduction of steel and other items, the demand declined,” she says. Still, the sisters – both widows and mothers of three children each – say they and their children are still engaged in pottery. But Sundar Begum says that the majority of the younger generation doesn’t plan to continue the pottery tradition. “Our grandchildren are studying,” she says. “They aren’t interested in this work.” Sultan has seven children. He says that none of them is engaged in this work or interested in it. “They are studying and want to do some other jobs,” Sultan says. Shazia Bano, an eighth-grade student in a local government high school in Zangam, agrees. “I want to study further and do something big in my life,” Bano says. “I am not interested at all in pottery.” Her cousin, Khushboo Bano, is in third grade at a local government primary school in Zangam. She says that neither she nor her friends want to do pottery. “No one is interested in this work these days,” she says. “So, we want to give it up.” Kumar says that none of his three children plans to continue the family pottery business. After completing 12th grade, his eldest son works as a laborer. His younger sons are studying in the sixth grade. Still, many people say they find their roots in pottery work and want the younger generation to carry it forward. “Our heart is with it,” Kumar says. “It is pride for us, and we can’t leave it. We want our next generation to carry it forward, but they aren’t ready, which hurts us.” Kumar says he learned the art of pottery from his father when he was 12. Later, he taught the skill to many. Ali Mohammad, a social activist from Pattan, the administrative division where Kangam is located, says that the Indian government has a scheme for such artisans in order to help them continue their businesses. “Contributory Social Security Scheme is a scheme offered by Department of Social Welfare for artisans like potters and cobblers,” he says. “Under the scheme, artisans have to contribute 100 rupees [$2] for 10 years. Bank and department, too, contribute towards it, and by the end of 10 years, they would get 36,000 rupees [$715].” But he says that many artisans lack awareness of this scheme. Another woman in Zangam who is also named Khateeja Begum is a member of the village government. She agrees that local residents lack awareness about various schemes offered by the government. “We’ve no awareness about loans for artisans or welfare schemes for needy,” she says.