Middlemen Mafia


A dispassionate overview of Kashmir society clearly indicates, its every facet of life is in control of brokers, from faith to market and to politics, observes Masood Hussain

During my schooling, life was very hectic. In a typical peasant family, there were cows to graze, paddy fields to be irrigated and pesticides to be sprayed in time. But what was amazing was that neither the apple orchards were paying enough to run the hearth nor the paddy was produced enough to feed an 8-member family. But still what was funding my low-cost education, may be part of the home requirements as well, was chilly plantations that would hardly cover half a kanal of the vegetable garden. I remember those unforgettable days of ensuring the Martchangan Dourie must have enough of water, every third evening in peak summer.

Harvested and sun-dried, what would actually shock me every time, when sacks of chilly would be sold, was that the buyer would purchase the spice in trukhs. Trukh has remained 5 kgs even during exploitative Dogra rule but the chilly-buyer would always count 6 kgs a trukh. “It is what it is, everybody does this,” my illiterate mother would always rebuff me.

Those days in absence of commercial poultry, there was a good market for white poultry feathers. Apparently the basic raw material for tennis shuttle-cocks, these would be purchased 20-pieces a dozen!

It was not chilly alone. Khush-khareed (willing sale) was not less interesting. An improved version of the Dogra era produce-take-over, it was a Revenue Department exercise under which they would purchase the paddy from farmers to feed the urban population. In certain cases, the cash-starved indebted peasants would end up selling their entire production to the government and feed their families with CAPD-supplied flour. But what was tragic was that when the farmer would transport the sold paddy to the local Panchayat, the in-charge would seek a Munn load every 10 trukhs to compensation for the “wastage during transport”! Interestingly, the transport would be the seller’s cost.

In apple, the agents would deduct almost one-third of the prevailing rates in cases they had paid advances to the growers, three months before the harvest.

It took me a lot of time to understand how the agent economics works. Even today, in Kashmir main saffron address, in Pampore, buyers take 12-gram, a tola and not 10 gram a tola as the books and the laws says.

Not many years ago, when I sold my wife’s house to get her and our children a new home, the gentleman brokers, took a lakh each for selling the old home and acquiring a new one. They were honest in admitting that they have their cut on the other side as well. As I started renovating the new home, when I visited the mundi, the timber sale unit,  the question was: “how many sq ft, Khaam ya Pukhta?” Pukhta, I understood later, was a complete sq ft and would cost more and in comparison, the Khaam was a few inches less thick because his saw-mil would cut the log through the buyer’s part, at my cost!

Keen observation of the society gets us to the larger reality that it is a society that is dominated by the brokers, the middlemen. Has anybody pondered over the fact that why the number of artisans in handicraft sector is diminishing with every passing day?

A few years back, a group of vegetable growers decided to manage part of the demand during summer. When they parked their truckloads in Parimpora they were shocked by the price they were offered. They felt so humiliated by the price that they returned without selling even a kilogram. The situation might have changed by now but the reality is that the ‘agents’ dominate the markets and the bonds are so strong – based on exploitation, that they leave no room for change. The entire vegetable market is dominated by the agent-brotherhood of Punjab, Jammu and Srinagar.

Off late, some of the villages, which are producing a lot of vegetable in central Kashmir, find it easier and workable to sell their produce to markets outside Kashmir. This happens at the peak of demand back home. These systems function defying every economics logic.

I have been always saying that Kashmir took up two challenges at the same time: to improve the Kashmir participation in the state and central civil services and to reduce Kashmir’s dependence for poultry requirements on Punjab, Haryana and Himachal. Within less than a decade, Kashmir produced more IAS officers than in the last fifty years. Almost same thing happened in the poultry sector as well. But the only crisis remained that most of the poultry units are unviable. Reason: most of the money that the sector produces goes to the retailer, who slays the bird and dresses it up for you.

In this part of the world, there are more middlemen between the God and the faithful. This exists at a time when the cell-phones have literally doomed the fate of the go-betweens as boys and girls communicate and then get their families in the loop.

In this backdrop, the politics of the place has evolved so badly that it has become really difficult to distinguish a leader from a politician. During the initial days of militancy, a Srinagar politician made fortunes by getting youth released from various security agencies and still was being published as a “leader”. In 2010 unrest, a lawmaker told the Lok Sabha that Kashmiris are used to erupt and calm down once the force is used. Later, in 2016, another lawmaker said, albeit in a different language, almost the same thing.

If a militant hits a person in Kashmir, it essentially means, in most of the cases, it is the middleman’s doing. But the Kashmir’s crisis is that there are people that are as influential in Delhi as they are in Islamabad. That is the key why nobody is in a position to solve either the Kashmir problem or the problems of Kashmir.

Kashmir is literally in a fix perpetually about what the fixers will do, next morning.

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