There is considerable confusion in the world including India about the legality of trading in Pashmina shawls. Many people believe that Pashmina shawls made and sourced from Kashmir are banned in India but the truth is that they are not. It is another kind of shawl that is made and sourced in Kashmir that is banned globally. This banned shawl is the world-famous “Shahtoosh” shawl which is made from the down hair of the Tibetan antelope called “Chiru.” These hard-to-get and expensive-to-buy Shahtoosh shawls have been woven by craftsmen and the women folk of Kashmir for many centuries now.
Banned by the Law
Shahtoosh is a Persian word which means “King of fine wools” and is indeed a shawl coveted my many of the rich and even poor people of the world. The fact that it is a banned item and is not supposed to be made, sold, bought or possessed has not deterred buyers and sellers from engaging in the illegal trade of the Shahtoosh shawl. The weaving of the Shahtoosh shawl has been banned because the Chiru is an endangered species under CITES [Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, a multilateral treaty to protect endangered plants and animals.
The King of All Shawls
What one man proposes another man disposes! The secret weaving of the Shahtoosh shawl continues unabated in Kashmir due to its high demand in the world especially in Western countries. You have to fork out anything from $5,000-$20,000 to buy a single Shahtoosh shawl in any western market. Before greed set in, Shahtoosh shawls were few in existence, and were made only by the master artisans of Kashmir. The delicate hair of the shawl is measured to be between 7-10 microns which makes them very precious and expensive. In fact, real Shahtoosh shawls are so fine that one shawl can be passed through a single wedding ring without any problem. Hence they are also known as “Ring shawls.”
The “Chiru” is an Endangered Species
It is not easy to source the wool from the Chiru today as their numbers have fallen massively because of the illegal hunting and killing of these fine animals over the years. At the beginning of the 20th century there were more than a million of them in Mongolia and Tibet but now there are only around 250,000 in the world with the majority in China. It is not just its fur that makes the Chiru a target for indiscriminate killing but nomads also kill them for their hide, bones, meat, and horns. It is still the finest, most expensive, warmest and most delicate shawl in the world. Its natural colors are white, black and red.
Please Live & Let Live
Even though the trade of Shahtoosh shawls has been made illegal in all the countries of the world an underground market exists for this shawl. Only a few countries have taken strong action against people who have been trading in this much coveted shawls. The problem is especially bad in Tibet and India too has its fingers stained by the Chiru’s blood. It is because of the vanishing Chiru that the Shahtoosh shawl not the Pashmina shawl that has been banned all over the world including India.