Eid Did Not Heal Kashmir’s Moribund Markets, Slump Rules The Bazaar

SRINAGAR: Everybody hoped that Eid shopping will end the years-long slump of Kashmir markets. As the key Muslim festival is just a day away, the slump continues to be the only constant in Kashmir markets. This is as true in Srinagar as it is for peripheral markets.

Even the crowds were thin, almost everywhere. Quite a fraction of the crowds actually turned out to be shoppers. Most of the shopping was about the kidswear.

However, the shops selling various foods and bakery items have had slightly above average footfalls. There were traffic jams in various markets but it essentially did not mean a huge business.

“The fact is that the people have lost purchasing capacity,” one shopkeeper in Goni Khan said. “They are coming to markets to get something for their kids but people by and large are not making huge shopping this time.”

A middle-aged lady said she moved out of her home against her wishes because her two daughters were desperate to apply henna on their hands. “There is no attraction to be out of the home,” she said.

Women rush in Goni Khan market in Srinagar. This market exclusively sells women’s ware. KL Image: Bilal Bahadur

A baker said that he is getting better footfalls in comparison to last year when the Covid19 lockdown dominated the scene. In fact, Kashmir markets have been operating very low business for the last three years. This year, however, they say crowds are better even though it does not transact in business.

Market insiders attribute the slump to a set of reasons. The situation that Kashmir is in for the last three years has created a crisis in which a number of people have either lost their jobs or have witnessed a fall in their earnings. The Covid19 pandemic has added to this situation, they say. “The loss in purchasing power of the consumers is detrimental to the market,” Abdul Rashid, a wholesaler said. “Once it falls, it takes a long time to come back.”

Then there are several other reasons that devoured the key Kashmir markets from exhibiting the traditional festivity. For instance, the prices in all the items have soared by 20 to 30 per cent. Trade attributes it to the frequent increase in process of petrol and other fuels. Many see it as the outcome of the Russia Ukraine war.

There is yet another major reason that is the outcome of the Covid19 days – online marketing. A huge section of the population that has access to credit and debit cards are frequently making purchases online. This is the reason why the courier companies are expanding in Kashmir. Unlike other places across Jammu and Kashmir, Srinagar is buying more and the arrivals are surging on daily basis. This is impacting the local markets seriously but there are no options because online is cheap and it offers choices.

In anticipation of Eid, Muslim girls showing their hands on which they applied henna in a Srinagar market. Henna designing is a special art that is managed by non local skilled persons. KL Image: Bilal Bahadur

Over the years, the markets in Kashmir have changed its style of operations. Almost every major brand that was Lal Chowk or Srinagar centric is now available across Kashmir. “If you have to purchase a Maruti car, get the branded bakery or the best dress, you get it in your nearest town,” explained Mushtaq Ahmad. “So why should one come to Srinagar at all.”

Getting into Srinagar has become a major exercise, especially for people who are used to Sumo travel, till recently the main mover in Kashmir that shortened distances. All Sumo vehicles are stopped at the Srinagar border. Then, they wait for a bus and it takes its own time to reach Srinagar. So getting into Srinagar has become expensive and time-consuming. Even people travelling in their own cars have a different problem. “If it is a south Kashmir number plate, everybody suspects you,” one Shopian resident, who wishes not to be named. “It could be the person managing a parking lot or a cop manning a bunker.”

All these factors have resulted in making of a situation in which a slump in Kashmir markets is visible. Interestingly, the Lal Chowk and Uptown markets in Srinagar are literally deserted, unlike the small local markets, especially in the old city.

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