Strikes have been the most common feature of separatist struggle since 1989. Hamidullah Dar reports the price that people and institutions pay for paralyzing life in valley.
Another promising June is proving a dampener for Kashmir economy. After the series of strikes in the wake of Amarnath agitation last year, continuous strikes have begun this year too. The first to panic is the tourism industry. With a pleasant summer wooing tourists from plains to the valley, the tide has suddenly turned. The current spate of strike has triggered cancellation of bookings in hotels and houseboats. Tourists who had landed here a few days ago are returning.
“The tourist inflow has tremendously decreased in the past five days. There are a lot of cancellations (of advance bookings) which is a cause of worry. We will again have to go to people outside the state to motivate them for coming to Kashmir,” says Farooq Shah, Director Tourism Kashmir.
Last week the waters of Dal were hosting thousands of tourists enjoying its serene waters. The din has disappeared in the wake of a week long shutdown over the alleged rape and murder of a young woman and a teenage girl in Shopian.
“We had a pretty good initiation of the tourist season but now our houseboats crave for tourists who prefer other destinations than Kashmir. Out of 800 plus houseboats, only 100 are occupied,” said Azim Tuman, Chairman Houseboat Owners Association.
Although, separatists had appealed not to harass tourists, the curtailment of their movement and a shut city left little for their consumption.
“There was no shutdown on the waters of Dal lake. No stone could ruffle the tourists enjoying a shikara ride in the lake. However, police restrained tourists from coming out of the houseboats which restricted them to the confines of houseboats. It turned their visit into a stale stay,” complains Tuman.
Nageshwar Scinde, a Tourist from Nagpur, concurs, “Frankly speaking, people of Kashmir are very friendly. We had no problem at all. But restrictions on our movement marred our holidays. We could not see the places of our choice, so we are leaving.”
Scinde, a college teacher, however hopes to revisit valley next year during holidays.
Tourists’ departures are far exceeding the arrivals this week. The airfares have sky rocketed with tourists on the run.
“In the last few days tourist arrivals have dropped from 3500 to 1500 per day. Since Monday, tourists are leaving the valley in hordes. We received requests for cancellation of reservations from 250 people in last few days,” says Abdul Rashid, a tour operator from Dalgate.
Tourism is not the sole industry to bear the brunt. The larger business community is also suffering huge losses.
“The total number of shutdowns including curfew periods since September 1989 is more than 1800 days and the loss incurred amounts to 1,80,000 crores,” says Shakeel Qalandar, President Federation Chamber of Industries Kashmir.
“Worst part is that banks charge us interest when their own establishments are closed on strike days. There is no logic in charging interest when whole gamut of activities in the valley remains closed,” adds Qalandar.
President, Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries, Dr Mubeen Shah says that per day contribution to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is 66 crore rupees, which is lost in a day of shutdown.
Trade bodies are now trying to find a way out of the situation. Sources in Kashmir’s trade fraternity indicate that the issue may be taken up with separatist leadership.
While the figures of trade and tourism losses are easy to compute, the shutdowns cripple lives of a number of poor people, mostly daily wagers.
This time shutdown is on wider scale, its impact can be seen in all towns of the valley. The losses incurred will therefore be of larger scale. Many, however, say people have no options available.
“We have nothing left with us other than shutdown and non violent means to protest the heinous human rights violations. After all, when will our daughters, sisters and mothers move around without fear of being gang raped and murdered?” blurts Numan Bashir, a college student.