by Shams Irfan
SRINAGAR: A day before Eid-ul-Fitr, markets in small towns and villages across Kashmir were buzzing with shoppers. Srinagar was less crowded but not as deserted as it was in August 2018, the last Eid. Traders admit the footfalls were less encouraging and slump remained barring a few areas in which the people made good spending.
But despite less footfall traders are thanking their stars for the improvement in business that has been in perpetual crisis since September 2014, floods. After floods, there were six-month long protests and shutdowns
over Burhan Wani’s killing and that was followed by demonetisation and issues of GST.
“Since then market is not able to stabilize on its own,” said Mohammd Ashraf, a wholesaler dealer in readymade garments who owns godowns in Srinagar’s Lal Bazar area.
“And whatever money people have they don’t want to spend, rather they want to save it given the uncertainty of situation since 2016,” said another trader who refused to give his name.
This uncertainty can be gauged as one takes a look around market places in towns across north and south.
“There is good rush outside shops selling bakery, mutton and dairy products here,” said Akbar, who sells electronic items from his shop in Tral. “But other than that business is down for all others by over fifty percent.”
In mid Ramazan when Akbar and other shopkeepers from the town came to know about Zakir Musa’s presence in a gunfight in Dadsara village, they knew situation is going to be bad in coming days. “We didn’t get goods from wholesalers in Srinagar as we thought Musa’s killing will impact celebrations,” said Azad, shoe store owner from Tral. “Now looking at the market I think we did the right thing.”
In Bijbehara town, situation is not much different as for most of the Ramazan, people kept their fingers crossed as gunfights raged across villages and towns in south.
“You look at the market and it gives you an impression that everything is normal here,” said Suhail A Shah, a local journalist from the town. “But this rush is mostly of people who just want to roam around markets and get some Eid feel. This is a rare occasion when people feel a bit free in the south.”
But overall Bijbehara exhibited relatively better spending power and appetite for goods that are not only essentials.
However, in nearby Shopian town, a place continuously in news for all the wrong reasons, wears a sad and gloomy look despite people roaming in the market. “There is no Eid rush as such here. There is an element of fear in the entire area as people are killed on daily basis on mere allegations of being over ground workers or militants,” said Abid, who owns a readymade garment shop in Shopian.
“How can you expect people to celebrate amid continuous bloodshed? There has not been a single week without a gunfight taking place in this part of Kashmir.”
In last one week five people were killed in Shopian including three militants and two civilian (one among them branded as OGW). “There is no happiness in this part of Kashmir. We are in continuous mourning now,” said Abdul Shakoor Wani, a fruit trader from Shopian. “Eid feeling is there but it is not completely fear free. Besides, given low crop last year and transportation woes people don’t have much money in Shopian.”
Shakoor sums up feeling on the ground: “Jee nahi karta kisi ka edi mananey ka (Nobody feels like celebrating). People are now fed up of bloodshed. There is no enthusiasm at all.”
It is not much different in nearby Pulwama town which has seen lowest poll percentage in recent Lok Sabah elections. “There are long lines outside mutton and bakery shops, two key items Kashmiris cannot live without,” said Gowher, a local shop owner who hails from Chatpora area of Pulwama. “One mutton shop owner sold around nine quintal since morning.”
In Pampore the scenes were not much different as traders blamed everything from BJP (for demonetisation), to security situation, back-to-back encounters, lack of money in the market to rains. “Both Modi and Geelani have crushed Kashmir’s traders,” said Sameer Ahmad Mir, a readymade shop owner from Pampore. “There is rush in the market but people are not purchasing. They are just window shopping as they don’t have much money to spend.”
Another reason traders blame for the slum in the market is looming fear of BJP’s plan to temper with Article 370 and 35A. “People are pending miserly. Nobody is sure what will happen in coming days with Modi in power,” feels Shakoor.
But if there is a town that looks lively on Eid eve, it is Sopore. Since morning people thronged to markets shopping for Eid, braving rains and traffic jams. “People are trying to forget about their situation and celebrate the festival with as much zeal as possible,” said Younis, a local journalist from the town. “There is bit of tension in only Zainageer belt that witnessed a gunfight two weeks ago. Rest is all fine here.”
Like other places across Kashmir, people focused on essentials like bakery, dairy products, mutton etc.
“We live in uncertain times. Who knows if we would be alive next Eid or not. So why to spoil this one,” said Amir, a college student from Sopore.
Same is the case with Hajin town as people are out on the streets trying to forget the bitter memories of year 2019.
“Eid rush is good, so is the situation so far. Let’s hope everything remains normal,” said Mushtaq Ahmad Parray, a cosmetic shop owner from Hajin. “It looks like people want to live for a while and forget about their miseries.”
Bank officials in Srinagar said Jammu and Kashmir withdrew more than Rs 800 crore in last four days from Jammu and Kashmir Bank alone. The volume of withdrawal is more than double than 2018, they said.