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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Documentary on Tibetan antelope wins premier environment film award

November 8, 2009

Sheren Shrestha
November 4, 2009

New Delhi, Nov. 3, 2009 -- ‘A Shawl to die for’
-- a Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) film - won an
award for Technical Excellence in Cinematography
at the prestigious CMS Vatavaran 2009 film awards
– India’s premier festival for Indian and
international documentaries on environment and wildlife, held last week.

The film comprising first-time footage of
shahtoosh production in Srinagar, Jammu & Kashmir
and hidden camera videos of the illegal trade in
Tibet was awarded for best cinematography. The
award was shared between camerapersons - Rita
Banerji of Dusty Foot Productions and Aniruddha
Mookerjee, Senior Director, WTI who shot the film.

Jahnu Baruah, celebrated Assamese filmmaker and
chairman of the 7-member CMS Vatavaran 2009 final
jury, said, "Confidentiality of the jury
precludes me from saying why this movie won the
award for Best Cinematography, but in my personal
opinion, it was a really great film."

‘A Shawl to Die for’ was among the 106 nominated
for the awards and final screening, from a total
of 366 national and international entries that were received this year.

The film traces the ancient craft of Shahtoosh
weaving in Kashmir, India and its links to the
decline of the Tibetan antelope found in the
Tibetan plateau. It also explores the struggle of
former shahtoosh workers displaced by the ban in
Shahtoosh production, and interventions brought
about by the Shahtoosh Workers Rehabilitation
Project of WTI and IFAW, supported by the British High Commission.

Rita Banerji, Director of the film recalled, "The
filming in the houses of shahtoosh workers was
carried out in January; it was freezing there,
but we had the most amazing experiences while
interacting with them, all of whom were such warm
people. We saw their struggle, their pain and
their hope as they survived the chronic militancy
problem as well as the ban in shahtoosh
production. One particularly emotional moment was
filming a relatively poor family in which a
70-year-old widow and her daughter-in-law had to
fend for the entire family. The women cried
during the shoot and it broke our hearts to see them struggle like that."

"The movie also documented the evolution of the
rehabilitation project. We met WTI team members
-- Ashfaq, Fayaz and Mudasir. Fayaz and Mudasir
are from shahtoosh weaving backgrounds; it was
amazing to see the determination of these young
people to work towards the welfare of their
community. We got to see a really fascinating
side of Kashmir -- one that has been overshadowed
by the prevalent sad news,” Banerji added.

The film also documented, using hidden cameras,
the smuggling of raw Shahtoosh from Tibet into
Srinagar, and of other wildlife articles such as
otter skins from India into Tibet.

"In 2000, we explored Tibet as part of WTI
investigation on the illegal shahtoosh trade. We
met traders along the way who were willing to
provide us tonnes of shahtoosh wool, despite us
being first-time “buyers”. In places like Gertse,
we discovered huge cache of skins lying in
people’s backyards! Obviously, we could not film
it as the owners would only allow us a sneak peak
and would not allow us anywhere near their cache.
It was anyway a challenging task to pretend to be
tourists and film conversations with traders
using hidden cameras. It was quite an
experience," said Aniruddha Mookerjee, Executive
Producer of the film who had also led the investigation in 2000.

"All along this trip to Tibet, we came across a
lot of interesting incidences. One, particularly
notable was that we met a lot of people with
artificial limbs. Apparently, many of them were
carriers of illegal articles who lost their limbs
to frost-bites as they attempted to cross borders
on foot during winters when border security is
relatively less active. A lot more could have
been added to the movie but for the time constraints,” he added.

Between 2000 and 2004 IFAW and WTI collaborated
in a global campaign against the Shahtoosh fabric
aimed at the fashion industry and consumers to
influence and reduce demand. At same time,
efforts were carried out with the enforcement
authorities in China and India to choke raw
material inflow to the world’s only production
centre, the Kashmir valley, to reduce supplies.
IFAW-WTI also lobbied with the Government of J&K
to outlaw shahtoosh production, which eventually came about in 2002.

"All these efforts to stop production and trade
of shahtoosh was necessary. However, we also
realised that shahtoosh was an issue of
livelihood as well as pride for the skilled
craftspeople based in Srinagar. Without an
alternative livelihood that preserved the skills
and tradition of these shahtoosh workers, our
efforts would have been vain, and even inhuman," added Mookerjee.

The Shahtoosh Workers Rehabilitation Project
helped establish pure hand-made Pashmina as an
alternative to Shahtoosh for the displaced
shahtoosh workers. To help minimise the deficit
in profits (as shahtoosh weaving was more
profitable), the project set up the Kashmir
Handmade Pashmina Promotion Trust (KHPPT)
comprising the workers themselves to ensure that
the profits from the sale in their products were
not lost to unscrupulous traders.

The KHPPT products are traded under the
brand-name ‘Pashma- the warmth of Kashmir’ and
comes with a craftmark certificate that
guarantees that the products are pure and
hand-made. About a year ago, Kashmir Pashmina was
granted the Geographical Indication (GI), giving
it the much-deserved edge over pashmina products from elsewhere in the world.

"The film is perhaps the first to document
shahtoosh production processes in detail and make
it available for public view. The filming was
done around 2001, and many protagonists of this
movie have since passed away. Yet, shahtoosh
weaving continues in Srinagar, underground. It
will be long before we achieve our goals, but
this film’s recognition will definitely help our cause," said Mookerjee.
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