ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

‘Where is my Ustaad?’ : Examining the making of hunr in Bazaars of Malerkotla


Kaur Navjit - Princeton, Anthropology, Princeton, United States


09 – Making Artisans: Artisanal Lives and Production in South Asia


 As the karigar(craftsperson) in the contemporary has come to occupy a vulnerable status that needs saving, this paper attempts to foreground a particular contradiction observed in the markets of Malerkotla. As the market, the shop owners and the ustads complain of the dearth of karigars, the mediatic status of the karigar however, observed across NGO pamphlets, big brands marketing stories state otherwise; the abundance of karigars needing investment. Oscillating between the very few and too many, this paper departs from a particular narrative that has dominated craftsperson studies in the contemporary (i.e. lack of resources) to highlight that both karigars and ustads pin their annoyances less on the status of money but at the lack of taleem (education) that could impart those skills. This could also be observed where the emerging handicrafts markets mediated through NGOs and entrepreneurs present the vulnerability of the karigar only in terms of a lack of financial stability. Instead, skill is assumed as inherited, known and granted, freezing both the definition of tradition and the biography of the karigar. The concluding remarks focus particularly on this question through the gendered lens of karigari where a woman’ s knowledge is assumed an inter-generational inheritance foreclosing the relationship of taleem and hunr.