Artisans and traders on Monday said that levy of Goods and Services Tax (GST) on Kashmir handicrafts is similar to the infamous taxation levied by the Dogra regime on Kashmiri shawls in 19th century. They were speaking during a seminar ‘154 years on, Tribute to Unsung Artisans of Kashmir’ organised by Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry ( KCCI) to pay tribute to 28 Kashmiri shawl weavers, protesting against the imposition of taxes on the shawls, killed by the Maharaja’s Army on this day in 1865. Artisans and traders present at the event also held a remembrance prayer for the slain shawl weavers who laid down their lives for upholding labour rights.
Addressing the audience at the event, Ibrahim Shahdad, a past president of the KCCI, said the killing of the artisans was the first uprising against exploitation of labour. Shahdad said the contribution of the slain artisans towards Kashmir art was immense as they put up a firm resistance against exploitation of local craftsmen. “We owe a lot to these artisans who laid down their lives to safeguard the traditional art forms given to us by Zain-ul-Abideen Budshah. Lack of leadership has been a main reason that a taxation regime such as GST was extended on our state robbing us of our financial autonomy. But I hope we emerge strong like the unsung heroes of 1865 and keep up the pressure so that Kashmir handicrafts is free from GST,” Shahdad said.
President, Artisan’s Rehabilitation Forum Parvez Bhat said levy of GST has badly affected Kashmir art to an extent that most of the youngsters are now reluctant to take up handicrafts as a career. “This day when we are remembering the shawl weaver martyrs provides us a chance to ponder upon the fact that this heritage industry is dying. We need to save Kashmiri crafts,” Bhat said. KCCI President, Sheikh Ashiq said the protests held by Kashmir art fraternity during the time of GST implementation in 2017 was highly inspired by the resistance showed by the slain artisans of 1865 to Dogra taxation. He said reduction of GST from 18 percent to 12 percent on Kashmir art was a result of a “huge resistance” shown by the local artisan community and traders.
“The kind of protests carried out by the artisans against unjustified taxation in 1865 is something we should take pride of. Knowing that some artisans chopped their fingers in protest and 28 of them were brutally massacred by Dogra army at Old Zaldagar Bridge when shawl weavers were peacefully protesting the Dagh Shawl Department and the cruel taxation makes this day important for us,” said Ashiq. Ashiq said GST has put Kashmir handicrafts sector on ‘deathbed’ as sales and exports have been declining. KCCI has put up a representation with the central government to withdraw GST on Kashmir arts, he said.
“We have asked Union Ministry 0f Textiles to take up the issue with the GST council. Development Commissioner of the ministry who also happens to be a J&K cadre officer is keen that taxation on Kashmir handicrafts be done away with,” Ashiq said. Rauf Punjabi, another past president of KCCI said GST on Kashmir arts pheriwalas was a ‘grim reminder that Kashmir’s financial autonomy has been robbed by GST’. “Government must realise the worth of Kashmir arts knowing the fact that it is a labour intensive industry and requires great skill set. So they can’t tax hands and should rather make it tax free otherwise we will have to pay a huge cost of losing this sector,” Punjabi said.