Needlework by female artisans in Pakistan’s white desert reaches royal courts of Arabia

Craftswomen in Khooh Kapni village in the Achro Thar desert near Khipro, Sanghar district, Sindh province in Pakistan. (AN photo by Zulfiqar Kunbhar)
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Updated 30 October 2020

Needlework by female artisans in Pakistan’s white desert reaches royal courts of Arabia

KHIPRO: Naaji Meghwar, a middle-aged artisan in a desert village in southeastern Pakistan, said that she was looking forward to going shopping for her family before the upcoming Diwali festival this year.
For a change, she can make her own decisions about how to spend money: The 10,000 rupees ($62) that she makes each month from needlework is hard-earned and all her own.
Meghwar — from Pakistan’s Achro Thar desert, known for its white sand dunes and saline lakes — is one of dozens of local women who have turned the craft of thread work into a means of financial independence, and whose elaborate embroidery designs are now admired and appropriated abroad, with regular orders from royals in the Middle East.
“This Diwali festival in mid-November, I have planned shopping for my family from my embroidery work savings,” Meghwar told Arab New, referring to the Hindu festival of lights, celebrated each year in the impoverished desert whose population of 300,000 people is majority Hindu.
“This financial freedom is because of money in my hand, as I don’t have to be dependent on male members of the family,” the artisan said.
Things are about to get even better for Mehgwar. With winter approaching, she and her colleagues are expecting a rise in orders for their richly detailed tapestries.
“Normally winter is peak season for local orders because of wedding season and dowries,” she said.
Demand for the embroidered pieces also rises in winter with the arrival of migratory birds and foreign hunters, who come mostly from Arab countries to hunt rare desert birds such as the houbara bustard. They also buy local craft.
“Achro Thar normally hosts dignitaries from royal families of the United Arab Emirates for hunting,” Malhar Chaniho, a local Arabic translator, who organizes hunting trips, told Arab News. “During the past 20 years, I have purchased countless homemade items, especially rugs and shawls on the demand of
royal guests.”

HIGHLIGHT

The designs are now admired and appropriated abroad with regular orders from Arab countries.

Needlework from Achro Thar is vividly colored with geometrical and wildlife motifs and comes in many variations.
Aari embroidery, for example, is popular for its fine and delicate threadwork and usually decorates scarves. Ralli work, with interlocking circles and stepped square patterns, appears on bigger items such as quilts and bedcovers.
These decorative handworks have international appeal as gifts. Allahyar Muhammad Khan Keerio, a resident of Achro Thar’s Sanghar district, said that he had spent 30 years working as a driver in Madinah and always took embroidered pieces with him as gifts when he returned to Saudi Arabia. 
“During my stay in the Kingdom as an expat and now as a frequent visitor, I take local handicrafts as souvenirs for my family and friends and for former Saudi bosses,” he said. “For my next Umrah trip, I have already placed some handicrafts orders to take as gifts.”
Because handicraft from Achro Thar is unregulated, it is hard to pin down how much of it is sent abroad and whether the women artisans are paid fairly for their work.
“This women-led craft is of high potential but remains undocumented,” Ashiq Hussain Khoso, head of the Trade Development Authority of Pakistan’s Hyderabad branch, told Arab News. “In personal and individual capacity, women-made products from Achro Thar go to Middle East, Europe and US.”
But the TDAP, he said, was planning to “uplift” desert craftswomen and help them to capture the online market. Indeed, in an impoverished region where most are illiterate and internet access is scarce, the craftswomen say all that they need is the government’s help in getting rid of middlemen.
“Government should establish purchasing centers where it can buy embroidery work and sell elsewhere and give us due payment,” said Khadija Samoon, an embroidery master from Dodhar village, who used to work with the Sindh Rural Support Organization.
As she sewed brightly colored patches onto a black tunic, she said: “In the absence of government infrastructure, women artisans are at the mercy of private vendors.”

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French youth of Arab origin mistrust secularism, national symbols, finds poll

Updated 43 min 17 sec ago

French youth of Arab origin mistrust secularism, national symbols, finds poll

  • Arab News en Francais/YouGov survey of French citizens of Arab origin found a wide generational gap in attitudes to secular values
  • Older respondents identified more closely with French national symbols, but tended to feel stigmatized for their faith

LONDON: Young people of Arab origin in France are less likely to hold secular values and are more distrustful of national symbols than their elders, an Arab News en Francais survey conducted in partnership with British polling agency YouGov has found.

Attitudes to secularism appear to differ substantially among those aged between 18 and 24, which constituted 15 percent of the 958 people surveyed, compared with other age groups.

More than half (54 percent) of all those polled said they believe religion plays a negative role in politics, while a smaller 46 percent of 18-24-year-olds said this was the case.

Likewise, on the subject of laws restricting the wearing of religious clothing, 38 percent of all respondents said they favor such rules, while 29 percent of 18-24-year-olds approve.

Asked whether they would be prepared to defend the French model of secularism in their country of origin, 65 percent of respondents said they would compared with just 56 percent of 18-24-year-olds.

Even among the 25-34 age group, adherence to the values of secularism is noticeably stronger than among the younger cohort, with 55 percent saying religion plays a negative role in politics.

The trend generally continues with age. Among those over 45, about 50 percent said they are in favor of laws limiting the wearing of religious symbols.

Observers have asked whether such negative perceptions of secularism among young French citizens of Arab origin can be equated with growing radicalism.

Some scholars of Islam have established a link between countries which have adopted a more “incisive” secularism and the number of citizens who traveled to Syria to join Daesh.

William McCants and Christopher Meserole of the Brookings Institution believe the political culture of France and Belgium, where religious symbols are restricted, combined with massive unemployment and urbanization, contributed to radicalization.

IN NUMBERS

46% 18-24-year-olds say religion plays negative role in politics.

58% 18-24-year-olds would support home football side against France.

Other researchers say those who traveled to Syria came overwhelmingly from poor urban areas, where they faced discrimination in the job market, housing and police checks.

“Some young people feel they are viewed as sub-citizens, while media rhetoric gives credence to the idea that Muslims are ‘banding apart’,” said Elyamine Settoul, a lecturer at the National Conservatory of Arts and Crafts in Paris.

“This otherness between ‘them’ and ‘us’ represents a breeding ground for radicalization. Radical groups will not only sell them full citizenship but also compensate for all their deficiencies, whether they are identity based, affective or narcissistic.”

It is perhaps surprising, then, that just 47 percent of the 18-24 cohort surveyed by Arab News en Francais and YouGov believe their religion is perceived negatively in France — significantly lower than the overall average of 59 percent among all age groups.

Few topics better reflect a community’s sense of national pride than an international football tournament. Dual identities often lead to the question: Should I support the national side from my place of origin or cheer for my adopted nation?

Once again, a generational split emerges. The survey found 58 percent of men aged 18-24 would support their country of origin against the French side compared with an average of 47 percent among all respondents.

If the French World Cup victory in 1998 is considered the peak of the country’s “black-blanc-beur” multiculturalism, then the 2001 friendly between France and Algeria must be considered its nadir, when Algerian fans invaded the pitch.

The Arab News en Francais/YouGov study found that support for the French national team tended to increase with age. About 58 percent of 35-44-year-olds and 50 percent of over-55s said they would support the French national side over their country of origin.

“Young people under 25 are still building their identity and tend to get closer to their country of origin at this age. They fully claim their belonging to the country of origin, but this remains like folklore, as they often do not know much about it,” Settoul said.

“Over time, the identity asserts itself: We integrate professionally, get married, buy property and no longer take the same positions.”