The symposium on “Two Decades of Working of the GI Law: Socio-Legal Challenges in the Indian Handloom Sector” was organized by the Centre for Innovation, Intellectual Property and Competition (CIIPC) and DPIIT IPR Chair, National Law University, Delhi in collaboration with the University of Liverpool on 18 Nov 2023. The event was held at National Law University Delhi and was also live streamed on YouTube.
The symposium commenced with an inaugural session featuring welcome remarks by Dr. Yogesh Pai, Associate Professor (Law), DPIIT IPR Chair, and Co-Director of CIIPC, National Law University Delhi. Dr. Pai provided an introduction to the symposium’s theme, highlighting its focus on evaluating the socio-legal challenges inherent in the Indian handloom sector. He introduced distinguished speakers and panelists for the symposium including:
Special Address by Prof. (Dr.) Unnat P. Pandit
Professor (Dr.) Unnat P. Pandit, the Honorable Controller General of Patent Designs and Trademarks at the Intellectual Property Office, Government of India, delivered a special address online. His discourse centered on the two-decade journey of the GI law, highlighting significant milestones and the trajectory of Geographical Indications over the years. He provided insights into the remarkable journey of the GI law since its inception in 1999. He highlighted the significant milestones achieved, emphasizing the registration of over 475 GIs, thereby acknowledging and preserving India’s rich cultural heritage. Prof. Pandit projected a promising future with the potential of recognizing over 15,000 GIs, stressing the pivotal role of community recognition and economic transformation through GI registrations. He emphasized the need for increased efforts, urging individuals to become GI Ambassadors to offer due recognition to local communities engaged in preserving India’s cultural legacy through handloom, handicrafts, and agricultural practices.
Keynote Address by Padma Shri Awardee Dr. Rajani Kant, Executive Director and General Secretary of Human Welfare Association, Varanasi, delivered a keynote address.
Dr. Kant brought over three decades of experience in the Social Development sector, sharing insights into the challenges faced by artisans and the historic significance of Indian handloom products. He underscored the historical significance of Indian handloom products, particularly from Varanasi, and highlighted their global recognition among celebrities and historical figures. Dr. Kant lamented past exploitations by various rulers and colonizers while celebrating the resilience of India’s handloom communities in preserving their heritage. He discussed the challenges caused by policy decisions favoring power looms and the subsequent decline in the handloom industry’s economic prosperity. Dr. Kant expressed gratitude towards initiatives supporting GI registration and emphasized the importance of community-driven GI recognition for ethnic, tribal, and primitive tribe products. He praised recent government initiatives promoting local products and handmade items at a global level.
The symposium featured a panel discussion comprising esteemed individuals from various domains.
The panel discussion revolved around the significance of Geographical Indications (GI) in the Indian handloom sector, exploring various challenges and opportunities associated with it. The session was moderated by Dr. Sujitha Subramanian, with key insights from Prof. Lisa P. Lukose, Mr. Ashish Kanta Singh, Shri Bijan Bihar Paul, and Dr. Yogesh Pai.
Prof. Lisa P. Lukose highlighted the vital role of GI in preserving India’s ancient culture through the handloom sector, underscoring its unique nature, employment generation (particularly for women), and contribution to national integration. She identified four key capitals – cultural, social, economic, and symbolic – and discussed how the absence of these capitals affects the handloom sector’s marketing and the status of weavers.
Mr. Ashish Kanta Singh emphasized the challenges and opportunities concerning the protection of GI products, especially in the handicraft industry. He discussed the potential conflict between technology and traditional artisanal skills, cautioning against tech interventions that might compromise the uniqueness of handmade products. He highlighted how technology, if used judiciously, could bolster protection measures and supply chain integrity.
Shri Bijan Bihari Paul emphasized the decline in the number of weavers and the necessity of adequate earnings for them. He highlighted challenges such as the shifting nature of the handloom sector, changes in materials used, and issues related to government policies’ effective implementation. He also emphasized the need for innovation while preserving traditional skills.
Dr. Yogesh Pai delved into historical aspects and the lack of engagement of weavers in protecting their interests under the GI Act. He pointed out the disconnect between authorized users and registered individuals and highlighted the misconception of GI being a collective public right rather than a collective private property right.
The discussion also covered aspects like comparing India’s GI system with that of European countries, the need for quality control mechanisms, the impact of climate change on traditional products, and ways to ensure effective community participation and awareness among weavers regarding the benefits of GI. Overall, the discussion outlined the multifaceted challenges and opportunities associated with GI in the Indian handloom sector, emphasizing the need for policy interventions, technology integration, quality control measures, and community engagement for sustainable growth.
The symposium successfully shed light on the challenges and opportunities within India’s handloom sector over the past two decades under the GI law. The speakers’ insights reflected a shared commitment towards preserving India’s rich cultural heritage, promoting sustainable livelihoods for artisans, and leveraging GI recognition to elevate the status of indigenous products in both domestic and international markets. Overall, the symposium served as a platform for intellectual discourse, fostering awareness, and emphasizing the need for concerted efforts to support and uplift India’s handloom communities. The event’s live streaming facilitated wider participation and engagement, ensuring the dissemination of valuable insights beyond the physical venue. In conclusion, the symposium highlighted the critical role of the GI law in safeguarding India’s cultural heritage and stressed the urgency of concerted efforts to empower local communities engaged in preserving these traditions.