A LOCAL traders’ body in Mussoorie has asked Kashmiris who sell garments from rented shops in the city to leave. Most of the shops have been rented out to them on an 11-month contract that ends on February 28, after which the Mussoorie Traders & Welfare Association wants the Kashmiris out.
So far the association has not given the Kashmiris any written notice, only telling them verbally about the deadline. However, Rajat Aggarwal, the association president, said there were no two ways about it, hinting at “communal disharmony”. “The local traders in Mussoorie want the Kashmiri traders to leave.”
The Kashmiri traders recently met BJP MLA from Mussoorie Ganesh Joshi requesting for help.
Aggarwal attributed the decision to 18 new Kashmiri traders renting stores in the town, selling shawls and embroidered women’s suits. He said it had happened over the past two years. “For a small town like Mussoorie, 18 new Kashmiri traders is a huge number,” Aggarwal said, adding that “on Monday (February 26) we have called a meeting with owners who have rented their shops to the Kashmiri traders to discuss the issue”.
Aggarwal added that their directive is not meant for the five-seven Kashmiri trader families who have been in Mussoorie for over five decades. “The old Kashmiri families are now a part of the town. They have never spread communal disharmony… We are not asking them to leave. It is these shops being rented by the new Kashmiri traders that are mushrooming in the town which the local traders want out.”
Tension over the Kashmiri traders has been brewing since June 18 last year when, after a Champions Trophy cricket final in which India lost to Pakistan, locals claimed to have heard some Muslim youths shouting “Pakistan zindabad” slogans. Two days later, Aggarwal had called a meeting which resolved that due to “the anti-national activity undertaken by local and Kashmiri youths on June 18”, the Kashmiris who had rented shops would be removed from their premises by February 2018.
The Mussoorie police had later clarified that no Kashmiri had been found involved in the alleged incident, and that the three youths who had raised the said slogans included two outsiders from Saharanpur in Uttar Pradesh.
The issue had been resolved after the J&K government had intervened and asked the Uttarakhand government to ensure that Kashmiri traders were not troubled.
On February 21, Fayaz Ahmed Malik (38), one of the Kashmiris running a garments shop in Mussoorie, wrote a letter to MLA Joshi and Uttarakhand BJP president Ajay Bhatt, seeking their intervention on behalf of traders like him. “Are we not a part of this country?… If we are, then why are we being forced to leave Mussoorie?” Malik, who hails from J&K’s Kupwara district, wrote.
Another Kashmiri trader, Altaf Hussain Khowja (34), also from Kupwara district, who has been running a shop on rent in the town since March last year, said, “We are just counting days, waiting to hear what the shopowners decide. If they ask us to leave, we will be left with no option but to move out of Mussoorie.”
Asked about the Kashmiri traders approaching him for help, Joshi refered to the June 2017 incident. “Things have happened that have resulted in local traders wanting the Kashmiris out,” he said.
About how they would convince the Kashmiri traders with contracts running beyond February 28 to go, Aggarwal said, “We will request the shopowners who have two-three year contracts with the Kashmiri traders to end the contracts sooner. But if the owners don’t agree to our proposal, we won’t force them since we don’t want any communal disharmony in Mussoorie.”
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