In the Era of Skill Development, Meet the Unemployed Skilled Workforce of Zardozi

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By Faiz Askari, Founder of SMEStreet

We as a nation are known for our population strength. The fast pace of our population growth is often referred to as a challenge. However, the main reason for considering this as a challenge is because of the unskilled population. Another challenging aspect for India and Indian key policymakers is the low per capita income. The later is an even bigger challenge. To overcome this challenge some sharp minds at the central policymaking team suggested the route for skill development.

In this regard, government schemes are been designed in the name of skill development. In 2009 we first came out with a National Skill Development policy and in 2015 National Skill Development and Entrepreneurship Policy was launched. The main objective of such schemes and policies is to contribute to the betterment of lives of Indian masses by enabling them through skill development.

But, in this article, we will discuss some major gaps in the overall. Because we are going to talk about skilled people who after a long financial struggle changed decided to change their area of expertise and join something else.One such skill is the art of Zardozi.

Skill Called Zardozi

Zardozi is an ecstatic art of embroidery work known for its designs and patterns. This art has hundreds of years of legacy. Zardozi embroidery is a type of metal embroidery. It was also used to adorn walls of the royal tents, scabbards, wall hangings and the paraphernalia of regal elephants and horses. Zardozi embroidery work involves making elaborate designs using gold and silver threads along with studded pearls and precious stones. But, this art became a great fashion statement when it entered into the garment business.

Initially, the embroidery was done with pure silver wires and real gold leaves. However, today, craftsmen make use of a combination of copper wire, with a golden or silver polish, and silk thread. This art is very popular among Indian ladies wear especially ethnic Indian dresses.

This art is still very popular among the elite of the society but the artisans are failing to fulfill their livelihood through Zardozi work. Their financial situation has become so bad that they are unable to survive in this business. This is undoubtedly an art of craftsmanship but today if you actually trace where these craftsmen are going, you might find some strange answers.

Status of Skilled Workforce of Zardozi Artisans

In the last few years, this art is badly facing threat from the Chinese automated machines for zardozi making. These machines work faster, accurately and at a low cost as well as compared with the conventional zardozi arts.

The artisans of Zardozi are commonly found in cities like Lucknow, Bhopal, Amritsar, and Hyderabad. Moreover, till a few years ago Lucknow and its neighboring areas such as Kakori, Malhiabad, Barabanki, Mehmoodabad were considered as India’s major hub for Zardozi art because of the mass level production of zardozi clothing.

In an estimated figure, within Lucknow area there are close to around 6000 small and micro level Zardozi workshops were operational till a few years ago. There were close to about 50000 skilled workforces was engaged in this work. This figure can easily be multiplied by 3 if you have to analyze the total number of people involved in this work.

Women in Zardozi Art

This sector has a majority with women workers. As another important feature of this art is the fact that these workshops of Zardozi work operate as a family-run micro-workshops where the entire family including the wife and children gets involved in the entire production process.

Why This Skilled Resource Segment is in Trouble

Now we all know that the world of automation is a fast-growing phenomenon. The Chinese manufacturers have somehow understood the business potential of this art and have successfully created a robust, fast production machinery which claims to replace the fine art of handwork with a fast automated and machine-driven manufacturing process.

Now with the advent of such solutions, the zardozi artisans are facing the huge challenge of survival in their domain of expertise. Now, the entire manufacturing process of zardozi garments has shifted its focus towards automated machine oriented fast production. Which eventually left the talented skilled resource into a vacuum of joblessness?

Where are the Zardozi Artisans Gone?

This is the most ironical part of the story. Majority of the zardozi workers are middle-aged people who have only limited themselves to this art, they are absolutely jobless and clueless about where to go. The estimated figure of such people is around 50,000 only in parts of UP. Now the young workers who are the second generation of the artisans have completely disconnected themselves from this art and entered into the business of battery operated e-rickshaw transport. It is ironical that at one level, our prime minister is talking about skill development and at the ground level we have such talented unemployed skilled workforce.

The main question is; can these artisans diversify? Can the art of Zardozi be presented in newer forms? If Indian ethnic garments are a tough turf for Zardozi makers can other options be tested? These are some open questions which might bring game-changing answers.

There are schemes and programs for innovation-driven startups and social entrepreneurship, this is an opportunity not just to make money but also to transform someone lives in a positive sense.

Faiz Askari

Faiz is a mediapreneur specialised in Small Business and Technology domain.

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