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January 13, 2015

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Political interference undermines artisan housing colonies in Sindh

HYDERABAD: The Sindh government’s mega project of setting up artisan colonies, each comprising 200 homes in different districts, including three such settlements in Matiary and one each in Mithi of Tharparkar, Tando Muhammad Khan and Kashmore may be ray of hope for artisan families to preserve the ancient work.
But the conscious artisans believe that uncertainty due to political unjustified interference is worrying the people associated with the traditional craftsmanship.
In Matiary district the sites planned for colonies are located in Ajan Shah in Hala, Bhit Shah and Matiary town. Initially the work on building colonies was started in Mithi, Tando Muhammad Khan and Ajan Shah in Hala in early 2010 for specific objective to facilitate the skilled families. Jam Mitho Bhutho, the member of such project committees of projects of art promotions, giving reaction says: “Project contains 200 residents in each colony, which will be offered selective and well-skilled artisan families free of cost so they may continue their work to promote the indigenous handicrafts. But when the first colony completed in Mithi for handing-over to the artisan families it was experienced breaching of the promises and the built homes were allotted outsiders instead of locals.”
The cry of the local artisans was justified and made the project controversial. Now the officials concerned have fixed some cost for the beneficiary families with six easy installments. The criteria are set that the families should deserve with their work through their ancestors. But again the political interference is going on to harm the process and may deprive the true artisans of their rights. Similarly, the government officials yet to decide for handing over the beneficiaries in Tando Muhammad Khan.
Tando Muhammad Khan is one of the centers of ajrak in the province. Hala artisan settlement initially contains 65 houses out of 200 and has been delaying unnecessarily and the artisans blame the

politicians of the area.
Jam Mitho received nine prominent awards nationally and internationally for his contribution and representing Pakistan to international exhibitions. He has set of suggestions for governments to promote all 33 main crafts through setting up such institutes to awards Diploma courses certificates, in which jandi (Lacquer work), Kashi, Ajrak, Khadhi, Thari Shawl, and variety of hand embroidery and recognise these works as industries.
Mitho belongs to the famous artisan family in Hala Old and has been practicing jandi, the specialization for 45 years with providing training to hundreds of followers to save the ancient work. He claims to have been gifted through generation to generation by his ancestors.
Jam Mitho, the Chairman Sindh Artisans Technician and Health Society and in-charge of Artisan Colony Bhit Shah for five year now is associated with Sindh Indigenous and Traditional Crafts Company (Sitco) at Buit Shah.
There are main government institutions like Sindh Small Industries Corporation, Culture Departments, Sindh Social Welfare Department and now Trade Development of Pakistan (TDP) to promote this indigenous crafts. But Sindh Small Industries Corporation is almost dead due to mishandling of the major organization, pushing the traditional artisans in the province.
The artisans also blame that certain officials of the Culture Department are not interested to launch projects for promoting these crafts and their artisans. Social Welfare Department is looking after smaller works at community level and promotes hand embroidery and other works, which the poor women prepare in villages.
TDP and other national institutions are also reluctant to promote these forgotten products to introduce the same to the world markets and bring foreign exchange. These are also demands for these artisans for finding world markets and give incentives to the workforce.
Bhit Shah Artisan Colony: Bhit Shah Artisan Colony, comprising 65 quarters and 10 shops, was built earlier but it was handed over to some families in 1983. This was still controversial issue and allegedly it was politician’s decision for allotment. Hence, the occupants sold out homes and shops and shiftedto their villages. Now there are a few centers of ajrak and jandi in Bhit Shah town, which has only 100 artisans struggling to save the ancestral works without government’s sponsorship.
The one center Sindh Indigenous and Traditional Crafts Company (Sitco) at Bhit Shah, running Jam Mitho has adapted modern skill of wooden block in ajrak and the modern design in jandi, to attract local buyers and exporters. But he said that despite attractive markets locally and internationally only exporters get benefit and not the actual artisans.
Matiary district has more centers of ajrak and jandi, which are playing role to promoting the work and major artisans earn living for their survival. The major demand of these artisans is to initiate financial assistance including introducing life insurance and pension after retirement for the skilled workers like other government departments so the workers may live a secured life.
There is another project of the provincial government with Rs50 million for training to 200 young artisans through major works so they may got better livelihood. But the irony is that the government officials are reluctant to take the scheme move ahead.
The artisans giving example saying that Nasarpur town was the major center of these traditional works for long. But, because of financial losses and lack of their assistance the artisans have shifted hands to another livelihood works for their survival. This artisan town of Nasarpur was famous of making Lugi, Susy and Ceramic, which now may me be smaller work there, engaged some workforce.
This art of Jandi remained transferred from one hand to another hand. It is said that after the fall of Mughal emperor due to economical disaster this art did not get proper support and ruined up and remained in the week hands of the craftsmen, who with their struggle again made efforts and preserve this art.
Despite some sincerer efforts the government of Pakistan could not extend helping hand to sponsor these artisans who have been working through their forefathers. There are a few artisans and loving culture within government sectors and private people, who are struggling to support the artisans.

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