Goa's Spirited Online Weekly Magazine.

Made in Goa, but GI elusive

AzulejosJune 24-30, 2013

Pushpa Iyengar

It has been three years since the office of the development commissioner of handicrafts sought GI (geographical indication) for three Goan products – azulejos (painted tiles), crochet and coconut carving – but there has been no forward movement.  Goa’s only contribution to GI status so far has been feni.

While it is estimated that about 50,000 products in India need protection under GI, till September 2010, only 164 (according to Wikipedia 171 by March this year, but some have not yet been included) products figured on the list. However, last month, Tamil Nadu contributed six more products including Madurai malli (jasmine), Pattamadai pai (Pattamadai mat), Nachiarkoil kuthuvilakku (Nachiarkoil lamp), Toda embroidery, Thanjavur veena and Chettinad kottan (palmyra basketry).  A total of 21 products including  Mangalagiri saris and fabrics from Andhra Pradesh, Narayanpet handloom saris and Bangalore blue grapes from Karnataka, Agra durrie (carpet), Farrukhabad prints, Lucknow zardozi (embroidery, especially with gold or silver), shuttle-woven Banaras brocades and saris from Uttar Pradesh got the status from the Chennai-based GI registry.

GI identifies a product as originating in a particular territory or a region or locality, where a given quality or reputation or any other characteristic of the product is essentially attributable to its geographical origin. India’s journey with Geographical Indications (GI) started 10 years back in 2003, when the GI Act and Rules came into force.  In order to comply with India’s obligations under the TRIPS (Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) agreement, the Indian parliament passed the Geographical Indications (Registration and Protection) Act 1999 in December 1999.  The Geographical Indications rules came into being in 2002, and the act came into force on September 15, 2003.  Under this act, the central government established a “Geographical Indications Registry” with all-India jurisdictions at Chennai, where right-holders can register their respective GIs.  Darjeeling tea became the first GI tagged product in India, in 2004-05.

Southern states proactive

Southern states including Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala have been proactive in pushing their products to get the status, but Goa has not been. Karnataka is leading the way with 32 GI registrations followed by Tamil Nadu with 24 as on March 31, 2013.   Andhra Pradesh (22) and Kerala (20) come third and fourth respectively. “These four states together account for over 50 per cent of the total GI registrations granted in India.  Comparatively, applications/registrations originating from foreign jurisdictions such as France, Peru, Portugal, UK, USA, Italy and Mexico are much lesser in number,” says Meenu Maheswary in an article entitled "Ten Years of India’s GI Journey” in mondaq services, a website that gives comprehensive online resources of professionals’ expertise and knowledge.

Although azulejos, the craft of making painted tiles, was brought here by the Portuguese when they colonized Goa 500 years ago and crochet is an European export (this writer has visited Narsapur in west Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh where crochet is a cottage industry). Today it has a Lace Park which is a one-stop-shop for all kinds of lace products made by thousands of women making crochet here.  But, coconut carving is indigenous to Goa.  But even here another coconut growing region – Kerala – fashions its own handicrafts out of a product that lends itself to recipes and exquisite products.

The good news is that it took five years of effort before Toda embroidery, a unique embroidery from the hilly region of Udhagamandalam (Ooty) characterized by striking colours, was given GI status.  In fact Toda tribal representatives received the GI status only recently (June 14).  Bangalore blue grapes – the proposal was sent by Karnataka’s horticultural department – too had to wait three years to be accorded the status.  But the bad news is that none of Goa’s three applications figure among those that are currently being looked at by the registry.  The registry has nine applications from products including Paithani, Gadwal and Banaras silks, study and documentation have been completed for Bandhani from Gujarat and Guledgud Khan from Karnataka, consultative committee meeting has been completed for Dharmavaram silk from Andhra Pradesh while for seven other products including Udipi Sarees, the study and documentation is in process.

Goa still in queue

So Goa’s products can be said to be in queue.  “There’s a huge demand for these products at the regular exhibitions that are organized,” says S R Toraskar, investigator for Goa at the office of the development commissioner.  Artisans point out that while crochet and azulegos could be termed as non-indigenous, being brought here by colonizers, Goa’s artisans have added value that make these products Goa’s own.  According to the GHRSSIDC (The Goa Handicrafts Rural & Small Scale Industries Development Corporation) website, Azulejos, were brought here by the Portuguese, but artisans from Moira and Bicholim revived the craft.  The website claims, that when the Portuguese left Goa after Liberation in 1961, this art form was abolished and was revived in 1998 by Goan artisans, three of whom have kept the art alive.

However, Orlando de Noronha, an artist who learnt the art in Portugal, says “Azulejo is not a Goan art.” He contradicts GHRSSIDC’s claim that the art was abolished. After learning the craft in Portugal, he came back and established Azulejos de Goa in 1998. The style of painting can differ, but the technique is the same. For instance, Mario Mirando’s slice of Goan life is often seen on azulejos, and that is the Goan flavour on this art form. “But you can never link Goa and Azulejos.” As an artist proud of his craft – his clientele, 90 per cent of whom are in the country and who place online orders – he says, “It would be better for my business if I can claim Azulejo is a Goan craft. But that is not true."

CrochetDona Paula-based Bharati Prabhudessai, who did crochet work some years ago along with her daughter, Priya, and took part in some exhibitions, says – “It is true there is a demand for Goan crochet work.  The worksmanship and the quality is excellent. Crochet from Goa really deserves GI status.”  She remembers that 10 to 15 years ago, there was a good market and even tourists would come looking for crocheted bedspreads and cushion covers.  “If the product is good, people buy it for any price.”

But like many arts and crafts, not just in Goa, elsewhere too, there has been migration to better paying industrial work.  Young girls, who used to crochet at home under the eagle eye of their mothers and grandmothers, prefer better paying jobs in an industrial unit to the effort that goes into making an exquisite bedspread.  As a result, crochet, like other crafts, is dying.

The benefits of GI registration – it prevents unauthorized use of a registered Geographical Indication product by third parties, boosts exports, promotes economic prosperity of producers – is not really understood because most producers are rural artisans and lack awareness. They are unable to comprehend that with the help of GI, branding is possible in the international market.

Feni is “country liquor”

There are other problems too.  For instance in the case of feni, which got GI status four years ago, it could be made popular like Tequila of Mexico but considering that feni cannot be transported from one state to the other, the question of marketing it internationally does not even arise.

Cashew Feni Distillers and Bottlers Association secretary Gurudatta Bhakta has been quoted as saying that the GI label has “absolutely not helped the marketing or sales of cashew feni”. He points out that cashew feni’s classification as “country liquor” does not allow it to be taken across the border.  “If it is classified as IMFL then may be the market will open up,” he says.

So, although India has taken the first step by enacting a law to protect the interests of local manufacturers of different regions, there’s a long way to go before it can be termed as a success.

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