Both small and large businesses in Jammu and Kashmir are facing near irreversible losses since the government of India changed the disputed region's autonomy, accompanied with a clampdown.
SRINAGAR-- In the last 15 days of lockdown in India-administered Kashmir, Bilal Ahmed Mir has almost dug into all his savings. The 48-year-old, who lives in a neighbourhood next to historic Jamia Masjid in Srinagar city, is worried that he'll soon run out of money and be pushed to borrow from here and there to feed his family.
Mir is one of the dozens of families in the area that make their living from the bazaar that runs inside the Masjid complex. All gates of the Masjid have remained locked since the crackdown in Kashmir began on August 5. Outside only Indian paramilitary troops and policemen guarding the entries are present.
Mir says every new day under the current lockdown is getting harder to bear. "There is a brutal crackdown going on in Kashmir and no one is talking about it," says Mir. "The market was already down after the government had asked tourists and pilgrims to leave. There was tension all around. But now we are caught in a situation which could last for months."
He is referring to a government of India's evacuation advisory for non-Kashmiris that was issued prior to its decision to unilaterally revoke the autonomy of the region.
Even though Indian authorities have maintained that life in the troubled Himalayan region would return to normal soon, Kashmir continues to remain tense. In spite of the security clampdown, reports of sporadic protests breaking out in several neighbourhoods keep pouring in. Some of them have turned violent.
Contrary to the Indian government's claims of having restored some communication, Kashmir's seven million population continues to be cut-off from the rest of the world. Mobile and internet connections in the Kashmir valley remain cut for the 17th straight day, and many landline telephones that were restored in more affluent areas over the weekend work at irregular intervals.
Nisar Hamid Khan, Senior Vice President of The Kashmir Chamber of Commerce, a local trade body, says they have informed the government that if the situation in the landlocked valley continues to remain tense, there will be a complete breakdown of the economy.
"There is a humanitarian crisis unfolding in Kashmir at the present moment. It's been two weeks, children haven't been able to go to schools. Patients aren't able to access medical facilities. Families are running out of essential supplies," he said.
Khan says due to the continuing communication blockade he has no knowledge of the whereabouts of his own office bearers and members, making it difficult to even assess the damage that the lockdown has caused to the Kashmir economy already. "There have been rumours that some of them may have been arrested. There is no source of communication through which we could find out about them," he says with agony writ across his face.
Four thousand people have been detained by authorities in Kashmir after the Bhartiya Janta Party government stripped the state of its special status, according to a report in the AFP. Those detained include prominent pro-India politicians, lawyers, and businessmen.
Sami Ullah, 28, whose Srinagar-based logistic startup was set to complete its first year of operations in August, is now under lockdown and the resident of Khanyar locality is finding it difficult to locate his eight employees.
"I haven't been able to pay the salary to my employees for the last two months. And on top of that, we are already running huge losses. Who is going to deliver a parcel in this situation? All the orders we parcel we have collected are lying in the warehouse which we have not been able to access," he said.
Muheet Mehraj, another young entrepreneur based in Srinagar finds himself in a similar situation. His online retail shop has been defunct since the lockdown began, leaving many of his employees virtually unemployed. "All I can tell you right now is we have done zero business in the last 16 days," he said.
The current lockdown has also jolted the horticulture and agriculture industry which make up a large chunk of Kashmir’s economy.
"The horticulture industry is also suffering. Most of control atmosphere stores are in Lasipora Pulwama. There is no way to find out if the stock in there is still useable. And even if we do access it, there is no way to transport. No labourers to load and unload it. It's a very difficult situation to be in," explained an apple farmer from the Pulwama district of Kashmir.
A large number of marriage functions have also been cancelled or postponed. In Kashmir region, marriage functions not only serve as a place of social gathering but also a market where a large sum of money exchanges hands and creates job opportunities for people involved in food and catering business.
"We called off our marriage function in view of the current situation. Even though we had already paid advances to many of the vendors, we had no choice," said Aamir ,a resident Lal Bazar, who got married on August 20 without a ceremony being held.
Khan says there a number of problems that have arisen due to the present lockdown and it will take the economy months or years to recover even if calm returns to the valley soon.
"There are hotels who may have to pay back to the customers who had booked the hotels in advance. They are in ruins. There are a number of labour-intensive projects that have been brought to a standstill. Most of the labourers from mainland India have fled the region after a government order asked them to leave in the view of security concerns," he added.
He says the government refuses to see the current crisis beyond a minor "law and order" situation.