1st Edition

Precious Threads and Precarious Lives Histories of Shawl and Silk Industries of Kashmir, 1846–1950

By Amit Kumar Copyright 2022
    176 Pages 16 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge India

    176 Pages 16 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge India

    176 Pages 16 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge India

    This book studies the hitherto unexplored history of the shawl and silk industries of the himalyan state of Jammu and Kashmir, India. It focuses on the three processes – production, circulation, and consumption – of the textile industry of the region to highlight its socio-economic and political importance in 19th- and 20th-century Kashmir. Using the micro-history approach, it studies the sites of production – the home looms or the small karkhana – efficiency of labour, and innovations by weavers in their techniques to suit the demands of the market. It also locates the impact colonialism had on transforming the labour economy in the Kashmir textile industry. Further, it compares these karkhanas with the Scottish factories or home looms to illuminate many sites of difference and comparison between the working styles and technologies.

    Mapping a history as complex as the weave on the finest Kashmiri shawl, this book brings to life the interface between culture, commodity, and colonial networks. It will be of great interest to scholars and researchers of South Asian history, colonial and imperial history, cultural studies, and economic and labour history.

    List of figures




    1 Present historiography and its critique

    2 Kashmiri shawls and their history

    3 Shawl-wool trade and the creation of Jammu and Kashmir, 1819–1846

    4 De-industrialisation, globalisation, and the crafts

    5 Silk industry of Kashmir

    6 Identity of the textile artisans

    7 The Resilient Artisan: Weavers’ exploitation and resistance





    Amit Kumar is Assistant Professor of History at School of Arts and Sciences, Azim Premji University, Bangalore, India

    "Kumar provides a highly original perspective on the history of Kashmiri shawls: an often-copied commodity of world fame produced in a conflict-ridden borderland. Telling the story from the maker’s perspective he convincingly argues that next to colonial and princely state policies and mercantilist capital the adaptability of the artisans determined the development and survival of this special craft."

    Karin Hofmeester, Research Director at the IISH (International Institute of Social History, Amsterdam) and part-time professor of Jewish Culture at Antwerp University.

    "The weavers strike of 1931 is often placed as a critical historical marker for a new self-assertion in the Kashmir valley, with resonances that ghost into the present. In this rich and engaging history of the textile industry in Kashmir Amit Kumar tells us how we may have got there. Keeping the artisan at the centre of his enquiry, he looks closely at the smallest unit of the craft, the karkhana, placing it within the wider circuits of the wool and weaving trade in the region, and linking it to global commodity chains. By doing so he opens up fresh ways of looking at Kashmir."

    Sanjay Kak, Filmmaker and Writer

    "In many ways, the real work on the genesis and consequences of the dispute over the erstwhile Dogra State of Jammu & Kashmir is just beginning. Amit Kumar’s Precious Threads, Precarious Lives: Histories of Kashmiri Shawl and Silk Industries of Kashmir 1846-1950 is a contribution of significance in that genre. It challenges accepted arguments ranging from accepted notions of "nationalist struggle" to the idea of a single unified history of India before the British colonial withdrawal from South Asia, while also pointing to mundane but critical methodological problems such as the manipulation of archival material to support statist interpretations."

    Siddiq Wahid, Senior Fellow, CPR India and former Vice Chancellor, Islamic University of Science and Technology, Awantipora