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Guarding heritage

It was near the beginning of the seventies when ladies of the house had their favourite sari merchants frequent their doorsteps and peddle their unique saris and weaves. Dhakai biti, Tangail taant, Rajshahi silk, Pabna's coarse weave and the all-time favourite, their precious Jamdani; each and every sari held a special place in their hearts but Jamdanis, without doubt, took the throne.

Kora, a colour between off-white and dirty-white, was the basic Jamdani sari base and it was heavily designed with multicoloured floral motifs, accentuated with a red border. This sari was the timeless, classic Jamdani. Almost everyone had that sari. Then there was that all-too-familiar kora sari, contrasted with dark purple or jungle green Jamdani borders and motifs, this too was a must-have in everyone's wardrobe.

Try and flip through any seventies album and you are bound to see your mum or aunts draped in neatly pleated Jamdanis with a short 'anchal', a large 'teep' and invariable hair up-do, or in a long plait with flowers tucked into one corner: a true Bengali belle.

Popularising Jamdani among the youths
These fashionable ladies invariably wore those beautiful saris to tea parties or to the movies and interestingly enough, the shelf-life of the unique weaves were so long that later their daughters too wore them to school functions. That was the seventies when the priciest jamdani was between Tk.35 to Tk.50, as different as imaginable from the current state of affairs when a heavy Jamdani now fetches prices of Tk. 80 000 or even higher. This, many say, is one of the reasons why popularising Jamdani saris among the masses poses a difficulty.

However, this does not spell doom for this heritage weave in any manner. There is, however, the age-old debate between retaining the purity of classics versus the influence of modernity -- to popularise any classic in present times it has be a commercial success. Young people must feel attracted to it to wear it and in doing so popularise it.

Heritage in its pristine form versus modernity
Recently the Jamdani, too, has been drawn into the trend of value additions -- be it in its basic layout, change in motifs or the adding of embellishments. The reason behind doing so is that many designers feel this traditional weave could use a facelift and could be jazzed up further, so that the fashionistas feel attracted to it and take to it, thereby making it commercially successful again.

Many say that today's youth are globalised -- they do not want to remain stuck in the claustrophobic past. While that may be so, today's youth are smart people too, while they have the right to shape their world they must also be vigilant in retaining heritage and be proud of their traditions.

Till date Jamdani remains the most precious sari for any Bangladeshi lady. Their wardrobe may be cluttered with Indian traditional, and contemporary saris but nothing can beat a finely spun cotton jamdani with intricate and heavy jamdani motifs. Indian traditional saris like Kanchipuram, Pochampally, Narayanpet are popular because of their traditional classic look, people will never think about fusing these with contemporary designs and ideas. Some things are best left the traditional way and our heritage jamdani most certainly falls into that category. Classic jamdani in its stunning magnificence should not be tampered with.

Jamdani fused with Benarasi or Nakshi or jazzed up with appliqués, embroideries, cutworks became a hot trend for some while; others debate that we are ruining our heritage weave to tatters.

GI for Jamdani
While these recent trends of value additions to our heritage weave are all the rage in the fashion scene, India has applied for the crucial Geographical Indication (GI) for Jamdani. We have not yet applied for the GI act, let alone fight for the rights.

For those who are not too sure what GI means, to simply put it Geographical Indications (GI) are a particular type of intellectual properties which are not patents. Patents are granted for inventions. For granting patents three things must be ensured, i.e. the invention must be new, there must be an innovative step, i.e. some new features added to the prior art and it must be industrially applicable.

On the other hand for GI you must show the particular goods belongs to a particular locality or geographical area or country and some quality or reputation of the product, handicraft or goods is attributable due to the reason that the goods belongs to that country or locality or region, explained legal expert Mahbub Morshed.

In its simplest form, Geographical Indication is a sign which recognises the link between a product's geographical origin and its reputation for quality because of that particular geographical origin.

In an article printed in The Daily Star on August 2012 by Ashfaqur Rahman, he writes, “India has opened a register of what is known as a Geographical Indicator of its products. Every member of the World Trade Organization (WTO), which abides by the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement, is required to do this. Under Sections 22, 23 and 24 of this Agreement, individual countries have now the right to protect and patent famous, exceptional and extraordinary products originating within the geographical territory of the country, under the GI Act 1999.

India has thus registered (uppada) jamdani sari as originating from Andhra Pradesh, the nakshi kantha from West Bengal and fazli mango from Malda district in West Bengal.”

As outrageous as it may sound our hands are tied because unless the Ministry of Industries finalises the draft and pass it as soon as possible, we will lose our rights to a lot more than just the Jamdani.

What experts say
Mustafizur Rahman, Executive Director of Centre for Policy Dialogue, while talking about GI, explained, “Uppada Jamdani from Andra Pradesh has been applied for GI registration along with Nakshi Katha and Fazli mango, there is a conflict of interest in regards to Bangladesh here. We must immediately register for GI, and highlight the disputed area and bring it to the notice of the WTO. Our main problems lie in the lack of co-ordination between the government bodies and follow-up activities. We must set up one office, maybe at the PMO, and work in a concerted manner towards institutionalising it legally. Branding Jamdani is a pressing issue now especially if you consider the commercial interest.”

When asked about the government's stance on applying for GI and whether it can be done in this current parliament session, S M Enamul Haque, Asstt Registrar (Patents) Dept. of Patents, Designs and Trademarks (DPDT) said, “Government's stance is to pass the GI Law within shortest possible time. After enactment of the GI Law, the real owner of GI products will be able to file applications for the protection of their GI products like Jamdani, Hilsa of Padma, etc. We don't know how long the current session of Parliament will continue. But I think to pass the proposed Draft in the current session is impractical.”

Conflict of interest for Jamdani is dealt with by the WTO Cell, Ministry of Commerce. The protection of Jamdani saris through GI is the priority of the hour and upholding our heritage and defending what is ours should be a combined effort from the government, industry experts, entrepreneurs and Jamdani connoisseurs in general.

By Raffat Binte Rashid


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