The industry has, for generations, been involved in the manufacturing of traditionally-designed wooden masks, products that are majorly sold in the local festivals of Arunachal Pradesh. Once much loved by tourists, these local masks are now without a market to speak of.
“Earlier, about five years back, there were over 50 mask manufacturing units in Tawang, which has declined to just five units now,” says A Bhattacharya, Deputy Director, State Ministry of Industries, Arunachal Pradesh.
“The industry is almost finished in the area,” rues Bhattacharya.
Bhattacharya cites a lack of market opportunities as the major reason for the decline of the industry. “Very few traders come from nearby states and the neighboring country of Bhutan to buy these products. Apart from the local festivals, the local emporium is a center for the trade of these masks. A very minimal number of tourists are now ready to buy these products,” he says.
“It takes around 20 days’ time to make one mask, as it involves hand work. To add to the woes of the craftsmen, labor is very costly in Tawang. We are not able to fetch profits due to increased labor prices. Moreover, there are no opportunities for export in this region,” says M Rapa, a veteran craftsman from Arunachal Pradesh.
These issues have forced many mask manufactuers to change their profession, Rapa stated. “Earlier, the people of Arunachal Pradesh were either involved in cultivation or in the making of masks, while, now, an increasing number of citizens are shifting to other jobs,” he says.
There is, however, a ray of hope for the manufacturers of these hand-crafted wooden beauties in Arunachal Pradesh. “The Department of Textile and Handicrafts in Tawang has now taken up the responsibility to sell the products. The motive is to promote this industry among the tourists,” Bhattacharya states.