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A conversation with artisan, down in Kashmir Valley

IndiaA conversation with artisan, down in Kashmir Valley

In the early chilly evening, I ambled down a half-marooned street in Srinagar and caught sight of a scanty fabric shop, with a few pretty rich embroidered salwar kameez suits hanging up around the shop.  A young trader was finishing his last dregs of salty pink Kashmiri tea. He seemed to brighten up at the sight of a customer.

As I browsed through his clothes items, I asked him, “How’s business?” curious about Kashmir’s progress after the abolishment of article 370.

He looked at me as if I asked him a silly question and said dryly, “Now look, what you think?  No one hardly comes by these days, you know, no money in pockets.  First, it was article 370’s long lockdown and then the corona lockdown ruined us.”

“Well the good days will be back, tourism is picking up again,” I said trying to be cheerful, “What’s your name?”

“Manzoor,” he replied.

“Well Manzoor, on the brighter side, tourism is back and the government is doing a lot to raise up jobs.”

“Now look madam,” he said sternly, “How many tourists will want to come to a militarized zone? We lost the bulk of our tourism after 370.  The government told us after demonetization, we would get black money back and the state would be rich.”

I asked, “Don’t you feel things are safer now?”

He shook his head and said, “They also told us there would be no support and money for terrorists to carry attacks, but after 370’s removal, the attacks have increased.  We live with it every day, so we are immune, but nothing is safe for us, nothing predictable. We feel attacks are increasing because, after the lockdown, there is more anger, but people cannot express themselves openly, fear you know.  ”

He added, “Each month, there is a new law set by the government making life harder. Being taxed heavily for our own property is unfair, right now with no income, these taxes are wrong.  Now if I take a loan to buy a car from outside Kashmir, I need to get it registered and the government puts a 9% tax on that! No other states in India have to pay 9% tax.  I mean, here with no jobs, how can we pay such high taxes and it raises questions as to why such discriminations are imposed against us?”

He went on to say, “I have to ensure my helpers also get food, but we are struggling to survive, I can barely get to pay the rent of my shop, each month.”

I said, “But the government has good intentions to start jobs, and tourism.”

“Jobs!” he laughed almost hysterically and said in a hard voice, “Where? I want a good government job that will secure my future.  Business is unpredictable.  People are looking out for even a driver or a watchman job, but there are none.”

He then said quietly, “I personally know of many people with depression, suicide cases, and drug addictions.  It is because people have no income, face other problems, and are depressed.”

I said, “I’m sure things will get better.”

He looked at me disbelievingly and said a little indignantly, “Now look madam,”  “The government now has direct control and access to Kashmir resources which makes the unemployment ratio in Kashmir increase.  Nobody ain’t going to give us anything, they said there will be jobs and industries in Kashmir, where are they? They don’t really care, do they?”  he asked cynically.

“After 370 Kashmir is suffering from health issues and mental health issues,  how can people be happy if lives are uncertain, new taxes raised, no jobs, the economy doing bad, tourism struggling to rise but not able to pick up.  The government is only interested in giving government jobs to Indians all across the country when Kashmiris themselves don’t have jobs, now you tell me, who can be happy like this?” he asked.

I nodded affirming agreement and finally walked out of Regalquest company’s shop swirling in a haze of emotions suddenly seizing a slice of the pain the Kashmiris were feeling.

 

Also Read: Five killed in poll-related violence in Bengal

Kashmir Valley  Kashmir Valley  Kashmir Valley 

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