5 QUESTIONS FOR DR AARTI KAWLRA
Social anthropologist, Dr Aarti Kawlra, explains the politics behind the making of the famous Kanchipuram sari.
1. What is Geographical Identification ( GI)?
GI is a mark of identification that links a product to its place of production and historical origin. It offers consumers the means to discern quality and is a globally certified protective practice which aims at safeguarding producers from competition with cheap imitations of their products.
2. How is it different from other exclusive rights like copyright, trademark and patent?
First, the GI is linked to multiple producers from a single region. It’s, therefore, a collective mark whereas copyright, trademark and patent are for individual producers and firms. Second, the GI, like trademark, is associated with quality. Only those products that meet certain standards of quality can be GI marked. Third, unlike a patent or copyright, it’s not time- bound and cannot eventually become available in the public domain.
3. When was the GI mark imposed on the Kanchipuram sari?
Producers in Kanchipuram began applying for GI since 2006. The GI mark
“The GI is privileging only a certain type of quality, design and method of production of the Kanchipuram sari... Such methods can easily become a restrictive practice that favours only a few.”
on the Kanchipuram sari is regulated by the Tamil Nadu government.
4. Why is there politics over a sari?
The GI is privileging only a certain type of quality, design and method of production. For instance, it only allows the korvai technique for weaving the sari, which involves a specialised process that requires two people. Earlier the assistant weaver was usually a young apprentice but after the child labour act this process began to fade away due to increasing costs for hiring experienced assistant weavers at higher wages. The GI document defines the exact quantity of raw materials like gold and silver to be used in the sari. But since the prices of these raw materials are constantly fluctuating, it affects the producers adversely. The GI also only favours silk Kanchipuram saris completely excluding the cotton weavers. Another important factor is the politics of identity. The GI document says the Pattu Saliyars are the original silk sari weavers of Kanchipuram, thereby excluding other weaving communities who are equally engaged in this creative process.
5. So the GI on the Kanchipuram sari does more harm than good?
The GI has, in fact, benefited French artisanal wine and cheese producers. But protection can easily become a restrictive practice that favours only a few. Further research may answer the key question— Who are the real beneficiaries of this global standard?