In conversation with Sonam Gurmet, Assistant Director, Handicraft Department Leh.

By Kunzang Chosdol LEH, Nov 03, 2017
Ladakh being known for its rich culture and heritage exhibit the traditional handicraft works which holds a unique place in the field of art, craft and tradition.To tell us about handicraft training and schemes for the artisans we have Sonam Gurmet, Assistant Director, Handicraft Department Leh. 

Sonam Gurmet pursued his Bachelor degree in ARTs from M.A.M College, Jammu and Diploma in Business Management from Jammu University. 

In 1982, he started working in Handicraft department as an Accountant cum Store Supervisor, in 1998, he was promoted as the Handicraft Training Officer and from 2008, he has been working as Assistant Director Handicraft, Leh.  
Brief us about the Handicraft Department and what role does it plays in the society? 
Handicraft plays a very important role in representing the culture and tradition of a region. 
They are the substantial medium to preserve rich traditional art and skills, heritage and culture which are associated with people’s lifestyle. Since centuries, handicraft is one among the source for the livelihood. 
The department focuses on making oneself employed with the help of their skills and talent in art and craft which are traditionally descended from our ancestor. The dropouts and unemployed in the society are provided training so that they can improve their skills and generate income for their livelihood. We provide training for different crafts such as Presco Painting, Clay modeling, Garment making, Tailoring, Hand Knitting, Embroidery, wood carving, silver Philigery, Carpet weaving, Papu Shoe Making, Namdah Making under District and state Non Plan. The duration of the training programme is 2 years. 
Besides these, the unregistered craft are provided training for only six month under BADP programme such as stone carving. After the training, keeping in mind the sustainability of their jobs and to help in setting up their own commercial units, the department provides 75% subsidy on the tools that is needed for the craftsman. 
To ensure sustainability, this year Government has introduced (ACC) Artisan Credit Card Scheme under which the Government pays 10% interest subsidy on loans upto ₹1Lakh for a period of 5 years. 

There are 20 handicraft centers in Leh district and till today, 950 artisans have been registered. A total of 4217 artisans are trained under different crafts under Handicraft Department. 
Tell us about the importance and existence of handicrafts in Ladakh? 
Every products of Ladakh is endowed with richness in itself. We have incomparable handicraft work like garment making (Bok Tipi), Papu, Snambu, Tsukdan, statue making, fresco painting, Thangka and many more.
In the past, when there were no roads and connectivity to Ladakh, we were depended on agriculture and livestock.  People were self sustainable, they produce and utilize the products which were locally produced. People were expert in every kind of handicrafts that is being made and exchanged within the society. 

 The tradition of self sustainable is very important to hand over to the next generation so that we would not be dependent on other.  
 Tell us about the scope of handicraft in Ladakh? 
Handicraft sector has a great potential for employment generation. Today, we have many youths who are unemployed; they should work towards developing their skills because there is a scope if one works with all will. We encourage the artisans to produce more of handmade handicrafts products as it attracts tourist more.  

The wood carving and Thanka painting arts of Ladakh is not only famous among the locals but has its good demand in the world also.  Learning it has wider scope economically as well as culturally. Once trained, one can earn lump sum amount as the market demand is high. Presco painting, clay modeling, thanka painting and wood carving are very rare craft which exist only in the Buddhist countries like Bhutan etc. and are playing good role in Ladakh.  
The educated youths should get training and improve their skill in this works, huge amount can be earns from handicraft works. So that one can earn their livelihood also it will help to improve the economy of Ladakh as a whole. 
How important is it to sustain this tradition? 
We are good in producing handmade products and it is our responsibility to preserve and make it sustainable for long run. There is a need of all the stakeholders to work on the promotion of this tradition and to make it sustainable for the future generation.  
At department level, we organise exhibitions, provide subsidy, loans and encourage artisans to work on handicraft work. In the exhibitions the artisans come directly into contact with the customers and sell their products without any intervention of the middlemen. This helps them in earning good amount. 
The handicraft and handlooms are seems to be neglected by all, there is need of more funding so that it can work more. 
The modern technology has replaced the labour intensive method. Does it affect the handicraft and craftsmanship among the people? 
Before the invention of machines, only hand-made products existed. But with time things started changing and people became use of machine made products as it consumes less time and good finishing. But, hand-made products never went out of demand. It still exists as people prefer to buy them because of the strength, durability, and uniqueness. 
Infact, to some extent handicraft products are being replaced by machine which is definitely affecting the engagement of people. But, the designs that are made by hand is very different as compared to the machine rather there are some designs which cannot be done through machine. Also, the costs of handicraft works are more expensive and the artisans enjoy producing it. 
Which handicraft work is famous in Ladakh and is there any craft or art that is in declining stage? 
Thanka Painting and wood carving are one of the most famous craft of Ladakh. Along with it knitting also plays a good role in the market. 
Yes, there are some arts and crafts which are in declining stage such as Copper work of Chiling village. The place is known for copper tea pot, wine pot, silver chortens which are used intensively for the domestic and religious purpose. The other dying crafts are shoe (papu) making , Namdha, pottery etc. 
Although we have training programme for these crafts in our centre but there are very less numbers of people who are interested learning it. With an aim to preserve this crafts, we encourage people to take interest in it and requested the respective councilors of different blocks to educate people about the importance of it. Thus, the training are provided accordingly.
Do you work for the preservation of traditional handicraft, how important is to preserve it? 
Yes, the main aim of the handicraft department is to work on the preservation of the local handicraft. We provide training in the main centre Leh and there are training center in each block where different crafts are trained among the interested artisans. 
Its preservation and promotion are an utmost important in order to retain our tradition, culture and heritages. If we lose our local handicraft works we will lose our identity. 
What kind of training does the department provides to uplift and promote skills of the artisans?  
We have 12 numbers of crafts for which the training are provided in different centers of Leh district. These craft includes Presco Painting, Clay Modeling, Thanka Painting, Garment making Tailoring, Hand Knitting, Embroidery making, wood carving, silver Philigery, Carpet weaving, Papu Shoe Making, Namdah making. 
We have a total of 20 centers in Leh District which are distributed in various villages of all the blocks. These are mobile centres which are in functional as per the response and interest of the people. 
Brief us about the post-training role of the department. 
After the completion of training the artisans are registered and work certificates are provided. To ensure further development of their skills, we provide 75% subsidy on the purchase of tools needed for the craft. 
After the completion of training, the registration is very important for the artisans. According to the registration, the artisans can get subsidy and loan from the Government. Even, they can get stalls for free in various exhibitions held by the Government in various places of India. 
Tell us about the marketing plans and actions for the products? 
With an aim for proper marketing facilities for the artisans, we built a complex named Artisan Shopping Complex near our Department which comprises of 21shops. The 20 shops are given to our registered artisans and one is kept for Amchi.  
Annually, Directorate of Handicraft and Hill Council organise local handicraft exhibition for more than 10 days. We have a proposal for a complete exhibition center like Leh Haat to be open in Leh where all kinds of handicraft product will be available for the costumer.  

The marketing facilities are good in Ladakh because the handicraft products are exhibited in every festival that is held in Leh like Ladakh Festival, Sindhu Festival, Ladakh Spal-ngam Tuston etc. Besides that in the tourist season, the stalls are provided on Sunday market through which the artisans can showcase their products. 
What are the different schemes and plans of the government towards promotion and development of handicraft?  
During the training programme, the department is providing a stipend of ₹ 700/- and ₹ 500/- to each trainee’s per month for advance and elementary training courses. Person trained in these centers are being registered with the department under follow up mechanism enabling them to earn their livelihood. After the completion of training, the department provides 75% subsidy or the purchases of tools. 
In order to check the traditional industry from extinction and to boost economic conditions of the  artisans which ultimately result in employment generation, the state Govt. has formulated a Special Credit Plan to provide financial assistance for setting up self-employment generating units under Crafts Specific Schemes at affordable terms to make them free from middleman and enable them to produce and market their product giving them better living conditions and improving their general livelihood. 
The Credit Plan Schemes aims at providing easy and soft credit to the Artisans to start their independent ventures. The scheme envisages 90% financial assistance in the form of loan from the banks and 10% promoters’ contribution for setting up of units. The department provides 10% interest subsidy on the loans advanced by the banks to the registered artisans for a period of five years. This year, we provides loan to a total of 30 numbers of artisans of Leh. 
There is raw wool bank in our main center Leh, where the artisans who trained in handicraft can get it at landed price. Its main aim is to run the business of artisans without shortages in wools particularly in the winter. Other than that under BADP/tribal sub plan, we provide trainings in different crafts. 
Under State Non- Plan, we have Massive Carpet Scheme. There are four carpet centers in Leh District where two are elementary and two are advance training centers which are movable centers. This year these carpets centers are at Stok, Chushot Shamma, Solar Colony and Nang. A total of 25 weavers have been under training in these centers. 
Like other districts of the J&K state, this year a total of 100 Modern Carpet Loom is going to distribute freely among the hundred weavers of Leh district. 
What are the different challenges faced and how can it is solved? 
 The main challenges is funding, we get minimum funds and could not do more things. There is a need of exposure tour to inter district or interstate for the trainees, so that they can know the crafts of each other’s and thus become more innovative and learn about the importance of arts and crafts. The instructor of different crafts should get more exposures.  
Another important thing is the need of separate Industrial cooperative society wing in Leh district. This wing is there in all district of J&K except Leh. Presently, we have only one industrial cooperative society in Kargil district that works for both the district.  
Message to the readers 
“Ladakh is famous for our pristine beauty of art and craft, it can only be sustained if we work together, join trainings and showcase it. The younger generation should take part in these training and avail benefits provided by the Government. The demand of handicraft works is very good and there is no problem in marketing”