Copying designs protected by Geographical Indications is wrongSoolkaama
Article by Priti David for PARI – @pari.network.
Traditional embroidery, done by women in the Toda community, has distinctive red and black (and occasionally blue) thread work in geometric designs on unbleached white cotton fabric. The traditional Toda dress is a distinctive shawl, the putukuli. Considered a grand garment, it is only worn for special occasions like visits to the temple, festivals and finally as a shroud. Around the 1940s, Toda women began to do made-to-order piece work for British buyers – tablecloths, bags and other items. For the next many decades, sale was limited to those who requisitioned the items. Only cotton thread was used in the past, though now most Toda women use wool thread, because, they say, it is less expensive and faster to work with.
It’s not just big companies, other craftspeople are also infringing. At a handicraft exhibition in Jaipur, Vasamalli found Toda designs on woollen shawls in another stall. “One customer came to fight with me saying why are your items so expensive when they are selling the same thing for the half the price?” she says. “It [the other stall’s item] was not hand embroidered, but a stamped pattern and [so] it was much cheaper.”
“If non-Todas do it, it will lose its value. But on the other hand if enough people don’t, it will die out completely.”Vasamalli
The Toda embroidery cause is not helped by the fact that there is no single overarching body of Toda artisans to address these issues. “We are scattered as a community,” Vasamalli says. “There are multiple bodies, it has become very political. I am a member of many organisations, but even I am unable to gather everyone around this. We need help.”
However, she adds, “You need muscle power to implement and propagate awareness among end consumers. GI holders and genuine producers (called ‘authorised users’ in the GI certificate) affected by counterfeit sales must seek legal remedy by filing an infringement suit [in the high court of that jurisdiction].”
The two brands marketing so-called Toda embroidery, that are referred to in this story, are Siyahi of Reliance Trends and Tjori.com. Despite repeated emails seeking clarity on the product and its description as given on the site, Tjori did not respond.
In response to an email sent by this reporter, email@example.com wrote: “Siyahi is a brand that takes inspiration from Traditional Indian crafts. We do not do original products produced by Craftsmen. Embroideries are all machine done. Embroideries are all done on computer embroidery machines in factories. Inspiration has been taken from Toda shawls.”