Bilal Ahmed, 35, a Kashmiri trader, has been a regular at Hyderabad’s Numaish Exhibition for the last 18 years. His stall, one among the 1,000-odd stalls at the 81st annual all-India Industrial Exhibition here, sells Kashmiri fur and leather jackets, bags with embroidery, among other things. Even as he explains his collection to customers, his mind is wandering in the Valley. “I am worried for my family. We have been facing a shut down back home for several months now. The money I make here will help us sustain for the coming months,” said Ahmed, adding that his family has been living a life of austerity. “Since tourists do not come like before, we have lost our business. More and more, like me, are looking at other states to earn a living for our families back home,” he added.
Many Kashmiri traders visit Numaish every year when winters peak in the valley. The 45-day long mega fair, which records a footfall of over 20 lakh people, witnesses participation of close to 250 Kashmiri traders. This year, however, has been different for most of them who have had their businesses in the Valley shut for past several months following the abrogation of Article 370. A fire accident at Numaish last year had caused many of them heavy losses.
Ahmed’s two stalls were also gutted in the accident. “I lost material worth lakhs of rupees. Even before I could recover from the shock, the ongoing turmoil spoilt everything for us, common people.”
Numaish this year, he hopes, will help him get back on his feet again. “Haalat bohot kharab hain par ummeed nahi chhode hain (situation is very bad but we are not losing hope),” said Ahmed, whose family has been running the business in Srinagar for the last 60-odd years.
Wasif Mir, 25, another trader who sells leather and fur jackets, caps, bags, etc, echoes similar views. “90 per cent of our business depends on tourism. When tourists do not come like before, what do we do? We just pray to almighty that normalcy returns in the valley,” he said. Wasif’s family runs a Kashmiri arts shop near Shalimar gardens in Srinagar that has been shut for two months now.
Pointing out that business has been quite dull for him at Numaish this year, Khan Ariz, a Kashmiri dry fruit vendor, said, “Rates for Chillgoza which comes from Afghanistan has doubled, Elaichi is priced at triple its earlier price. Dry fruits have become very expensive.” According to him, setting up a stall at Numaish does not seem to be a profitable option anymore. “The stalls were priced at Rs 35,000 last year. This year, it is at Rs 50,000 plus GST. Then there is an additional expenditure on electricity, stall, etc. Expenses are increasing and business is dull,” he added.
Tahir Ahmed Bhatt, who has set up a stall selling shawls, sarees, and suits, at Numaish for 9th year, asked: “What profit?”. Further, he said: “I just hope I don’t incur losses here at Numaish this year.” His shop at Lal Chowk has been shut for two months now. “Kashmir is cut-off from the rest. There is no internet, no phones, no tourists, and no business. The earnings from Numaish will certainly not be enough to cover losses of last several months,” he added.
Meanwhile, an optimistic trader Shakeel Ahmed said normalcy was returning slowly in the valley. “There is no shortage of anything. Tourists are coming back slowly. Business is normal. Once internet services are restored, everything will be fine again,” he hoped.
Stating that there has been an increase of 10 per cent in number of stalls put up by Kashmiri traders, Dr B Prabha Shankar, secretary of the Numaish, told indianexpress.com that Kashmiri traders do brisk business every year.
“There are around 200 stalls by Kashmiri traders. They find good liquidity. Whatever they earn in 45 days here is sufficient for them to sustain for entire year in Kashmir. It is a livelihood. All of them are doing brisk business,” said the secretary. According to him, ensuring public safety has been the top priority for the organisers this year. “We have 80 fire hydrants which are equal to having 80 fire tenders. Only 1000 stalls are given permission this year. So we have more space for visitors to walk around. There are 4 entry and 9 exit gates this year,” he said. Rates of stalls have been increased this year to 51,000 owing to increased demand, he added.
In 18 days, so far, a footfall of about 5.4 lakh visitors is recorded. The organisers expect a footfall of around 25 lakh this year.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines