Ajrak is a printed shawl of Sindh and its history dates back to the Indus civilization 5000 years ago. It is worn by people on traditional dress, given as a gift item and and also to offer condolences when somebody dies. The original Ajrak is suitable for all the seasons. Males use it as a turban and females as dupatta.
But people who work in Ajrak manufacturing workshops have a different story to tell. People, mostly in the rural areas, work in the Ajrak manufacturing workshops and depend on it for their survival. But now hundreds of skilled workers employed at more than 80 workshops across the province are compelled to work on the lowest minimum wages as demand for Ajrak has declined. The government’s lack of interest and ignorant approach in this regard have almost destroyed the Ajrak industry.
Sahita Noohpota, a village of artisan communities located along the National Highway, Matiari, comprises of 500 families, which depend on Ajrak manufacturing for their survival. The village houses 19 Ajrak workshops where 5,000 original Ajraks are prepared monthly, which are supplied to the local markets. Despite inflation and price hike, the workers are compelled to work on lower wages.
Suhno, 50, who has been working in an Ajrak manufacturing unit at Sahta Noohpota for the last 35 years, said that recently when Sindhi Culture Day was celebrated, people bought machine-made Ajraks and caps instead of the original ones. In his understanding, use of traditional hand-made Ajrak and caps should be promoted on such occasions so that more employment and work opportunities could be created. He admits that hand-made Ajrak is costly, therefore no one buys them.
He said that usually in Sindh, people present Ajrak to close relatives on weddings or send it as a gift to friends. But now, due to price hike the people cannot afford to buy it, hence they prefer low-priced items (machine-made Ajrak).
Ajrak’s preparation takes at least one month. A five metre long piece of cloth is dipped into water and colours 250 times during processing. Different print stamps are used to make designs on it, while dyes are used to prepare natural items on the Ajrak.
Shakeel Abro, Director Aek Hunar Aik Nagar (Ahan), a government-run institution to promote traditional art, said that the workers, who work in Ajrak manufacturing workshops are paid little amount. But, he said, the Ahan has initiated training programmes for these workers so that apart from preparing Ajraks on raw cloth, they can also work on Silk and other cloth items, which will help them in earning more money. In this regard, he said, they have organized three workshops each in Bhit Shah, Matiari and Sahita Noohpota adding that more training workshops will also be held in other cities.
Abro said that there are 80 Ajrak manufacturing workshops in Sindh, including Sahta Noohpota, Bhit Shah, Matiari, Tando Mohammed Khan, Matli, Sehwan and Sukkur. He said there is no proper mechanism to improve the market of Ajrak locally and abroad. However, Sindh-made Ajraks are being exported to America, which may further increase its production. He said that Ajrak is also being used for making bags, bed sheets, curtains and frames, which will help in boosting its market locally and internationally.