Uttarakhand owes a lot to its Shilpkar community. The community has historically been a large portion of our builders, weavers, metal workers, artisans, folk artists and farmers. However, traditionally they have also been discriminated against due to their caste. They hold very little land and only now are starting to be represented in higher education and government jobs. Even now, as most of Uttarakhand is developing, the economic condition of Shilpkars of Uttarakhand remains pitiable.
Who are Shilpars?
Shilpkar is an overarching term for a number of artisan castes that are found in Uttarakhand. The word is of modern origin, but the people who it represents are an ancient people. Currently they are counted among the members of the scheduled castes of Uttarakhand.
Being artisans, they had a symbiotic relationship with the farmers of Uttarakhand. They provided their services as craftsmen and got food grains in exchange of that. However, that also meant that they did not hold much land for farming as it was never their primary occupation.
With modern times, when the new village economic system arose on the back of government jobs, ration shops, and industrially produced cheaper goods became widely available, they were left behind. The marginalization was further accentuated by lack of upgradation of skills and their location being mostly in villages, while the economic growth happened in urban areas.
The current situation in Uttarakhand spells doom for Hindus in a few generations. Rapid demographic changes are being brought about by unchecked migration of Muslims from plains areas of UP. In case of Kumaoun, this migration is from Rampur, Bareilley, Kiccha, Moradabad etc. In case of Garhwal, this is from Saharanpur, Bijnaur, Muzaffarnagar etc.
In both cases certain professions like welding, carpenter, barber, plumber, mechanic etc. have been monopolised by Muslims. Please note that even they have very little land holding and came from similarly low educational background, but these professions earn very well.
On one hand, one struggles to find a Shilpkar Hindu in expanding cities of Uttarakhand, while on the other hand, Muslim population from outside has expanded greatly since the formation of the state. With appropriate policy steps, this situation can be remedied and Shilpakars who have been backbone of Hindu samaj, can be greatly benefitted.
Outlines of the suggested policy
The policy can work on some or all of the following points:-
- Facility for training and apprenticeship for Shilpkars in above mentioned professions by old and experienced masters of the craft. We do not want to produce tourist knick-knacks, but things of everyday use. We want them to provide services we require in daily life. Thus, barbers, carpenters, welders etc. should be paid by the government to train new boys. This training should be in shops, not ITIs. The trainer and the trainee both to be paid some stipend for encouragement and help.
- Government should help willing boys to relocate to cities for first 6 months. The biggest reason our Shilpkars remain in villages is because they do not have resources to move to cities. Government should provide money so that they can live in cities while they train. It is expected that in 6 months they would be trained enough to earn for themselves. Even if 1 among 10 such boys remains in the field, it would bring a great change almost immediately.
- There is a large market where these services are needed and trained boys can easily make 20-30k per month in these jobs. This is honest work and that too on own terms. The trained boys would no doubt establish their own businesses in due course.
- The funds for such a policy can be easily be got from various government schemes. In any case, it would not be a large expenditure if JAM trinity is leveraged properly. For a six month period, all expenditure including stipends and fees to trainers could be about Rs. 10000 per month i.e. 60000 per person. For 200 persons, this translates to Rs. 1.2 crore and on per year basis about 2.5 crores. Every district can easily spare this amount and bigger districts may perhaps train more people.
- It is important that the bureaucracy be kept as away from this as possible. The selection of candidates to be on first come first serve basis rather than anything else. This could be done online like IRCTC tickets. Similarly, the disbursements be made online and for checking quality of training and goods/services, one can use online ratings by customers rather than government inspection reports.
Many people may take exception with the proposal as being exclusionary for other sections. However, I have strong reasons to keep this scheme initially for Shilpkars:-
- If other sections wanted to take up these well paying businesses, we would see efforts by them to start the same. However, they have evidently not and this shows their unwillingness to do these jobs which involve manual work. Shilpkars have no such disdain for honest manual work.
- Due to social support or some little money they had, many of the other castes have migrated to greener pastures. Shilpkars genuinely need our help to move into better paying jobs.
- The social impact will be huge. Generally, Muslims are now freely allowed inside so called upper caste houses in plains due to them providing these essential services. However, ironically Shilpkars are still not allowed in. These businesses would encourage social integration as now caste barriers would be broken in this manner.
- This would also keep the demography of Uttarakhand stable and provide inclusive growth with social harmony.
- The problem of unemployment would reduce to a fair bit.
- This might increase migration from villages to cities, but that is anyways happening. Secondly, why should only Shilpkars be left out ? Benefits of urbanisation and economic growth should be for everyone.
Probably after a few years, if there is interest, the benefits of policy could also be given to other persons. In any case, others are always welcome to pursue these professions independently.
The changing socio-economic conditions in Uttarakhand require renewed focus on a sustainable solution to rampant unemployment and economic inclusion. It would be best if that solution integrates social justice and also provides a path for continued social harmony in Uttarakhand.