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For Phulkari Fullness...

Seven years after the women-driven craft got the Geographical Indication status, rural artisans in Punjab are yet to reap the full benefits. Reason: lack of awareness and marketing22 Apr 2018 | 12:12 AM[ + read story ]

Vijay C Roy in Chandigarh

One of the indispensable parts of rural economy is the traditional art and craft. Marketing and awareness can lead to riches. For instance, Phulkari: the traditional, women-driven embroidery art earned the Geographical Indication (GI) status in India seven years ago after a five-year legal battle. The status could have ushered in gainful employment for hundreds of women in Punjab, two districts of Haryana, Yamunanagar and Ambala, and Rajasthan’s Ganganagar. The GI enables only registered traders and manufacturers to sell hand-embroidered Phulkari products. Yet there has been hardly any progress on the ground. 

Aficionados as well as those associated with the craft say the products are being exported and are widely available in the domestic market. What is lacking is remunerative returns to the women artisans in the absence of awareness. “Undoubtedly Phulkari is expanding, but it is not commanding premium prices even after getting the GI tag,” says Anu H Gupta, assistant professor, University Institute of Fashion Technology & Vocational Department, Panjab University, Chandigarh.

“The artisans often complain that machine-made Phulkari products are taking precedence over hand-made artistry — the genuine Phulkari work. The difference at times is so subtle that a customer would not know. The artisan stands to lose because the prices of the hand-made stuff would be more,” says Gupta.

Self-help groups

Phulkari literally means floral work as the entire length of the cloth is embroidered and filled with hand-crafted flower motifs. At least two lakh rural artisans across Punjab are engaged in the work. Self Help Groups (SHGs) and NGOs have supported the women artisans over the last one decade.

Seema Rani and Rekha Mann of Patiala have empowered thousands of women by enabling them to learn the craft and market their products. “In Punjab across various districts, we have trained around 55,000 artisans since 1994. We are assisting artisans in marketing through our cooperative society,” says Rekha Mann of Patiala Handicraft Workshop Cooperative Industrial Society Ltd. Seema is working with 50 artisans in marketing their produce.

“The artisans think marketing is not their forte. So, middlemen and traders have exploited them. We have developed a network of purchasers to ensure that workers associated with us get the right prices,” says Rekha. The GI tag has helped her to negotiate and command a good premium, she says. ‘Ingredients for Phulkari products have become costlier. But an artisan does not get the adequate returns,” says Seema. 

Authorized users

The Punjab Small Industries and Export Corporation Ltd (PSIEC) is the registered proprietor for Phulkari. It means its name figures in the Register of Geographical Indication as the registered proprietor for the tag applied for. But PSIEC has facilitated only two authorized users in the state — Seema and Rekha. Only the two can use the GI tag or logo in either the product manufactured by them or by the artist associated with them. 

PSIEC is yet to create a unique logo or a tag. Experts say if the government is really serious about increasing the income of rural artisans, it should first identify the artisans and assist them in training and marketing. Gurharminder Singh, senior scientific officer, Punjab State Council for Science and Technology, says the artisans need handholding. “The government should act as a facilitator between the producers and marketers. First, it should set up a common facility centre where the raw material should be provided by the government. Second, after the product is made, the government should help in facilitating channels to market the product so that the artisans get remunerative prices,” said Singh.

Ancient art

  • It is difficult to date Phulkari. References to the embroidery work are found in ancient texts 
  • Phulkari can also be traced to folktale of Heer-Ranjha
  • The work became visible during the reign of Maharaja Ranjeet Singh
  • Phulkaris were usually embroidered on home-spun and locally woven khadi cloth
  • The embroidery was done with a ‘pat’, the Punjabi word for floss silk yarn 
  • The yarn came from China or Afghanistan. It was then  dyed in Jammu and Amritsar

What GI status can do

  • It accords legal protection to the products and safeguard unauthorized use of the product
  • Only authorized users can have the exclusive right over the product
  • It promotes economic prosperity of producers
For Phulkari Fullness...Painstaking work: Three women from a family giving final touches to a Phulkari Dupata in Patiala. Tribune photos: Rajesh Sachar
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