Email

One year on, India's lockdowns ruin occupied Kashmir's economy

“We’ve not earned a single penny for a year now.”
Published 02 Aug, 2020 04:34pm

A year ago, Abdul Rashid was making a living by selling flowers to tourists in hundreds of ornate pinewood houseboats in Dal Lake in Srinagar, the main city in Indian-occupied Kashmir.

When India suddenly scrapped disputed Kashmir's semi-autonomous status, followed by an unprecedented security clampdown, economic ruin ensued.

“It was not just a political change. It destroyed our livelihood,” said Rashid, 60, who has now turned to growing vegetables to feed his family.

Kashmiri boatmen rest as they wait for customers on the deserted banks of the Dal Lake in Srinagar, July 20. — AP
Kashmiri boatmen rest as they wait for customers on the deserted banks of the Dal Lake in Srinagar, July 20. — AP

A Kashmiri woman rows her boat near unoccupied houseboats at Nigeen Lake in Srinagar, July 16. — AP
A Kashmiri woman rows her boat near unoccupied houseboats at Nigeen Lake in Srinagar, July 16. — AP

Days before the August 5, 2019, decision by the central government in New Delhi, authorities asked hundreds of thousands of tourists, Hindu pilgrims and migrant workers to leave the territory, shutting its economy. Since then, tens of thousands of jobs have been lost.

After a series of political blunders, broken promises and a crackdown on dissent, Kashmiri fighters launched a full-blown armed revolt in 1989, seeking unification with Pakistan or complete independence.

India dubbed the struggle 'terrorism' abetted by Pakistan, a charge Islamabad denies.

Hundreds of the colourful hand-carved houseboats, known as shikaras, lie deserted, mostly anchored still on the desolate lake. Hotels are empty and there are hardly any tourists.

Kashmiri man Illiyas Ahmad cleans an unoccupied houseboat at Nigeen Lake during lockdown to stop the spread of the coronavirus in Srinagar, July 16. — AP
Kashmiri man Illiyas Ahmad cleans an unoccupied houseboat at Nigeen Lake during lockdown to stop the spread of the coronavirus in Srinagar, July 16. — AP

Kashmiri houseboat owner Ghulam Qadir Ota offers prayers inside his houseboat during lockdown to stop the spread of the coronavirus at Nigeen Lake in Srinagar, July 24. — AP
Kashmiri houseboat owner Ghulam Qadir Ota offers prayers inside his houseboat during lockdown to stop the spread of the coronavirus at Nigeen Lake in Srinagar, July 24. — AP

Some businesses had resumed with the partial lifting of the security and communication clampdown earlier this year. However, Indian authorities enforced another harsh lockdown in March to combat the coronavirus pandemic, further emaciating the local economy.

The Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries pegged the economic loses in the region at $5.3 billion and about half a million jobs lost since August last year.

The seven-decade-old Hotel Standard in Srinagar had a staff of 30, according to its manager Khurshid Ahmed. Now there are just three. The only activity inside the once-bustling place is by the cleaning staff.

Kashmiri hotel manager Khurshid Ahmed stands at the reception counter of Hotel Standard during lockdown to stop the spread of the coronavirus in Srinagar, July 15, 2020. — AP
Kashmiri hotel manager Khurshid Ahmed stands at the reception counter of Hotel Standard during lockdown to stop the spread of the coronavirus in Srinagar, July 15, 2020. — AP

A Kashmiri waiter cleans a table inside a restaurant of Hotel Standard during lockdown to stop the spread of the coronavirus in Srinagar, July 15. — AP
A Kashmiri waiter cleans a table inside a restaurant of Hotel Standard during lockdown to stop the spread of the coronavirus in Srinagar, July 15. — AP

Mohammed Rajab, a taxi driver for 37 years, hasn't been hired even once since last August. “I parked my taxi at our stand few days before August 5 last year. It’s still there along with 250 others,” he said.

Tens of thousands of daily wage workers, like Rajab, have suffered the most.

Kashmiri taxi drivers walk near their parked vehicles inside a deserted tourist taxi stand during lockdown in Srinagar, July 20. — AP
Kashmiri taxi drivers walk near their parked vehicles inside a deserted tourist taxi stand during lockdown in Srinagar, July 20. — AP

Mohammad Lateef, a boatman, used to ferry tourists around the lake. He now sells cucumbers and cigarettes to locals along its banks.

“We’ve not earned a single penny for a year now,” said Ghulam Qadir Ota, a houseboat owner. “All we have are these boats. We don’t have any other means to earn.”

A Kashmiri houseboat owner Ghulam Qadir shows his guest entry book which was last filled in July 2019, in Srinagar, July 28. — AP
A Kashmiri houseboat owner Ghulam Qadir shows his guest entry book which was last filled in July 2019, in Srinagar, July 28. — AP


Header image: A Kashmiri shopkeeper sits on the entrance of the half-closed shutter of his shop during a lockdown in Srinagar, Indian-occupied Kashmir, July 27. — AP