Liberating Working Women in Traditional Occupations

Journal of Heritage Management

The term traditional occupation is an umbrella term. All over the world, varied meanings are allocated to traditional occupations involving different communities. Meanings are always determined by the given sociocultural contexts. However, both scholarly and operational definition is offered here:

The occupations practised by the successive generations, rooted in customs and practices and focused on subsistence economies, pre-dating colonisation and the industrial revolution. Often these refer to occupations within agriculture and crafts, with crafts encompassing a range from weaving to the construction of buildings. (Ratnam, 2011, p. 96)

In the context of Kashmir, we have used the term traditional occupation to those occupations in which men, women and children are involved, and such occupations are transmitted from generation to generation through apprenticeship. Generally, it represents the heritage crafts of Kashmir, among which the position of women has been understood in the carpet and shawl weaving crafts.

Significance of Traditional Occupations

Traditional occupations provide ample employment opportunities to people of all walks in Kashmir, particularly women. The women’s involvement in traditional occupations has a long past. The survival of these occupations in the age of globalization is largely made possible through the participation of women. These occupations are the mainstay of a considerable number of women in Kashmir with lack of alternate opportunities seen as the major reason for the concentration of women in this informal sector.

These occupations provide secure workspace to the women of the valley, as it is the main household enterprise. Pointing out the economic importance of such occupations in Kashmir, Manzoor Ahmad reported that the ‘welfare of the people is closely tied up with the handicrafts industry. If the industry faces any sickness in production, trade, and commerce, economic life gets paralyzed, adversely affecting the social and political fabric of the state’ (Shah, 1992).

Madhu Jain, in his valuable contribution The Living Art and Craft Tradition of Jammu and Kashmir, insisted that the employment lifelines to local Kashmiri artisans can be generated by sourcing, developing, marketing and popularising Kashmiri handicrafts in India and abroad.2

Besides economic importance, there are religious sanctions behind the origin, growth and development of the traditional occupations in Kashmir (Hasan, 2002). They contribute rich cultural prosperity and source of income to the dependent and the ordinary people to meet their functional and aesthetic needs (Prasad, 2005).

Threats to Traditional Occupations

In the hierarchy of occupations, traditional occupations have moved down from top to bottom. People are giving up these occupations because of multiple reasons. One such reason is the neoliberal economy, which has brought increasing uncertainty and risk for many workers (Solomon, 2008). Another reason is the control exercised through direct measurement of performance, and new electronic technologies seem to have increased the precision of such control (Parada, 2002). Intermediaries, inadequate technologies, poor electricity supply, woeful infrastructure, corruption and non-availability of cheap finance are the major threats to traditional occupations (Waheed, 2006). Both exogenous and endogenous factors are responsible for the decline of traditional occupations in India and Kashmir. Global market has further hampered the progress of traditional occupations of Kashmir (Ahad, 1987).

Local Theoretical Engagement on Women’s Deprivation in Traditional Occupations

Dabla (2008) found that working in traditional occupations is ‘tough, time-consuming and no returns for years’, and the ‘employer is exploiter’; no wages are given to women folk even after 3 years of work. They have to work for a couple of years without availing wages, and after 3 years of work, they are eligible for wages. The average working hours of a carpet weaver and shawl worker range from 8 hours to 12 hours a day. The women are the real backbone of traditional occupations; the agents, merchants and the exporters are the exploiters.

Every one among them takes advantage of women’s work, but the surplus is wholly enjoyed by the big brokers and the exploiters (Jan, 2004). Given the high price of looms and raw materials, the carpet weaver does not even think of starting work independently. Women involved in the traditional occupations are the most vulnerable and get paid less for long working hours. Most of the profit goes directly to the wastakaar/dealer/contractor who buys the products at a low rate from them, gets it finished and sells it at a high price (Batool, 2016).

Though women are economically active in the traditional occupations and handicrafts in rural and urban Kashmir, this has hardly improved their living conditions due to low wages (Shazia, 2014). The process of modernization has hampered the occupational structure of the Kashmiri society, and this, in turn, has affected the economy of women engaged in traditional occupations (Imtiyaz, 2017).

Conceptual Outline

Women’s deprivation in traditional occupations is understood and explored in terms of leadership, working conditions, designing, access to the financial institutions and the scale of wages. In approaching the degree of prevailing levels of women’s deprivation within the paradigm of traditional occupations, the Marxian approach is seen as to be appropriate. This approach acquaints researchers with the means and methods of exploitation adopted jointly by intermediaries and the capitalist class to exploit the aforementioned occupational groups in Kashmir.

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