The abrogation of Article 370 on 5 August 2019 was deemed a masterstroke in India bifurcating J&K into two Union Territories. The abrogation became an international issue leading to an eerie calm in the Valley which had the propensities to explode with the tiniest provocations from the borders.
Due to this, a lockdown was imposed in Kashmir which affected the Kashmiris in many arenas – physically, emotionally, financially and politically. The lockdown also led to high stress levels, anxiety, and depression.
The financial sector was hit in vast proportions crippling businesses further with the suspension of the Internet, mobile phones even down exclusions of SMS. The J&K lockdown led to Rs 12,000 crore loss during the 100 days lockdown. KCCI president Sheikh Ashiq Hussain said, “A single day’s shutdown in Kashmir results in a loss of Rs 125 crore. Every kind of business was hit badly in Kashmir since August 5th and yet no one is taking responsibility for it.”
As if matters were not already horrendous, in December 2019 another calamity stalked the Earth in the form of the Corona virus. Since the virus needs distancing to kill it off, vigorous lockdowns were executed over nations. Economies crashed to deeper degrees. For Kashmir, it was a double blow that hit harder than any other place on Earth because J&K had already suffered intensely during the previous 100 day’s lockdown. Core sectors of the economy of J&K have witnessed a steep decline after the abrogation of Article 370. Due to the communications blockade, lockdown, curfews , and militant threats, in the past five months alone, the economy of Kashmir lost INR 178.78 billion and lost more than 90,000 jobs in the sectors of handicraft, tourism and information technology.
This is the first time in the past 70 years that rural Kashmir is facing such a great degree of economic slowdown. Tourism is down to the ground, the horticulture industry is dwindling, and students are suffering because of the ongoing internet blockade. The apples industry in Kashmir, worth INR 80 billion which contributes eight percent of J&K’s GDP, has been crushed. The Government’s clampdown delayed the harvest for over a month crashing the industry during the peak harvest season. By the time the Government intervened, apple produce was procured and marketed by NAFED, it was too late and the damage had been done. Before this, in fact, hundreds of farmers were forced to either sell their apples at throwaway prices or let their apples rot.
While the world is hit by financial fall due to COVID-19, for Kashmir, it is a double-axed blow by the intense lockdown due to the abrogation of Article 370, and then lockdown due to COVID-19.
Presently, the Central Government’s focus is nose deep in domicile matters and GST. Sadly, the financial hurts, losses and painful problems in Kashmir are not the top priority. There is a rapid spike of Corona virus patients in the Valley, hospitals are overflowing and many sick patients are turned away. There are only 1,000 dedicated beds available in the five main hospitals of Srinagar of which 70 per cent have oxygen supply lines and only 20 per cent have ventilators.
While the food and medical industries still manage to survive, the textile and handicraft industries struggle as sales are next to zero. We were able to touch base with one trader, artisan, Shafat Dar. He has many workers with him who are struggling to survive each day. It would be great to connect with them, find out their difficulties and see how we can get involved. The phone number is 91-79065-18866. There are many like them, so this is just a starting step by way of support. As we say, one drop of water makes an ocean, so everything we do counts for the greater good.
In time, we hope the Central Government would give greater assistance to build up the lives of the Kashmiris during this pandemic, grappling to get up from two-edged sword slash by previous 100 day lockdown, before the COVID-19 lockdown. They need to do an overreach so that shadows in the Valley will depart.