Strong objection over attempt to patent Naga traditional shawl by NIFT

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An apex body of the Naga tribes came out with strong objection against patenting of Naga traditional shawl by the National Institute of Fashion Technology


Source: National Herald


On October 16, the Naga Hoho (an apex body of the Naga tribes) came out with strong objection against patenting of Naga traditional shawl by the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT). It claimed that apparently the NIFT plans to patent the Naga shawl and are seeking “objection- if any” from various Naga women’s bodies in Nagaland. The timeline for raising objection was scheduled for October 18.


However, this entire protest is based on a misconception that NIFT will own the patents for Naga Shawls. The fact is that NIFT has been entrusted with the task of zeroing in on artworks from the Northeast which need Geographical Identification Act protection so that no other similar products manufactured anywhere else in the world will be able to be sold under the same brand names.


In its letter to the Director – Arts & Crafts, the Naga Hoho stated that the Naga Traditional Shawls are not merely a ‘dress” or an attire, but a symbol, culture and used with utmost respect. It’s a cultural heritage which the Nagas are the sole and rightful owners of, it said.


The letter stated that these traditional products cannot be used or advertised for any other purpose without the consent and proper consultation with the Nagas.


Moreover, the Naga Hoho categorically mentioned Art 371 (A) of the Indian Constitution in its letter to assert their rightful ownership of the Naga Shawl (s) – its design, textiles, et al.


The Naga Hoho – the apex body of the various Naga tribes in north-east India asked the Government of Director through the Arts and Crafts department to convey their objection to the NIFT.


Even as the patenting plan or the Geographical Indication (GI) process has reportedly been going on for the past years and the recent latest move by the NIFT seeking objection’—if any from various Naga women associations, women in Nagaland—most of them if not all, are unaware or uninformed.


Women leaders, social activist and women working in the area of handlooms and handicraft have said that there has been no official information about such a move that has come to their notice.


Rosemary of the Naga Mother’s Association said that the association has not received any such official intimation from NIFT. Meanwhile Khesheli Chishi – Convenor of the Naga Indigenous Women Network said that she was unaware of such happenings or of any move to ‘patent’ the Naga shawl. Questioning the intention and reason behind the patent, Chishi said, “They cannot just patent our Naga shawls.”


Sonnie Kath, founder of Exotic Echo Society and someone who has been working with Naga weaver women for decades, came out strongly on the move to “patent the Naga shawl”. She said that she came to learn about it through some acquaintance. Objecting to it, she stated that there was no awareness and no information of such happenings with the traditional weavers or women in the villages.


As some one who had been working on traditional loom, production of traditional shawls, apparels and other products, Kath said that she had not received any official information about NIFT’s move to patent the Naga shawl. Strongly objecting the move, Kath said, “It is not only about selling or buying a product, it is about our identity.” “It is our heritage and our traditional right.” Quoting Article 371 (A), Kath says “We are the rightful owner of our products. It is our heritage, our textile and we have the right to own and protect it.”


NIFT has initiated a process of registering crafts of northeastern states under the GI Act. As per reports, NIFT has identified 18 such crafts, including the Naga shawl, bamboo and cane and bell-metal products, among others, to be filed under the GI Act. This would mean that similar products manufactured in any other part of the world cannot be sold as a Naga Shawl or an Assamese Gamosa (towel).


NIFT has reportedly completed the documentation for all the major crafts after visiting the geographical clusters and meeting the artisans and other stakeholders to document the history of these arts. The patent, reportedly, was planned to prevent mass copying of these crafts and fetching better prices for the artisans and units involved in such trade. But clearly there is a communication gap and acute misunderstanding.


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