SRINAGAR: From the Tourist Reception Centre through Regal Chowk and straight up to Amira Kadal Bridge, a stretch on which traffic remains suspended for three days ahead of Eid for business activity, there was no public movement nor any business activity on Monday, just days away from Eid-ul-Fitr. The road stretch, like elsewhere, has been barricaded, and government forces deployed to prevent anyone from entering or gathering.
The scene is reminiscent of last year’s lockdown imposed by the government to contain the surge of Covid-19 cases. The lockdown has done away with any semblance of celebration and festivity of Eid-ul-Fitr. The buzz in the markets is nowhere visible. There is no rush, no crowds, no business activity.
“There is no celebration this year, too, on the occasion of Eid,” said Muzaffar Ahmad, a resident of Safa Kadal, Srinagar. “It is not that the markets are shut, but there is no inner peace. I don’t feel like celebrating Eid, nor do my family members. Everything about us and around us appears to be in mourning.”
Markets which remained abuzz with people and business activity ahead of Eid continue to remain shut for nearly two weeks now. The lockdown has been extended till May 17. Eid, which will most likely happen either on May 13 or May 14, will have to be celebrated under the lockdown.
Goni Khan, the busiest market in the valley, has been closed both at its entry and exit points. Any attempt by a shopkeeper to open his shop is either responded to with beatings, or challan and arrest. So is the situation in its neighbouring markets. In uptown Srinagar areas like Sanat Nagar and Chanapora, shopkeepers try to give the slip to police by downing their shutters when the police are around and opening them when they are gone.
“We have been locked inside homes for two weeks now. Business activity is shut. We are making an attempt to make some quick buck for Eid. We, too, have families,” said Ali Muhammad, a textile shopkeeper at Chanapora.
Ali is a father of three daughters and a son. All of them are students, not contributing to the home finances. He takes care of it all alone. Most of what he had saved has been exhausted, he said.
The chance of markets opening anytime soon also seems bleak. About 2800 people have died so far and 2,16,932 people have been recorded as positive since the pandemic began last year. Since the beginning of April this year, Jammu and Kashmir has been reeling under the second wave of Covid, recording a 700 percent increase in active cases in the four weeks of April, from 2,874 cases on April 1 to 22,283 at the end of the month.
Four consumables — mutton, chicken, bakery and clothing — have been off business this season as well. Khazir Muhammad Rigoo, the Retail Butchers Association President, told Kashmir Reader that there has been very limited sale of mutton because shops remain closed.
“All that has been sold has been done secretly. How much can be made out of it? You can decipher yourself,” he said.
So has been true of textile, bakery and chicken. Mushtaq Ahmad Khan, a leading wholesaler of textile, told Kashmir Reader that fifteen days of lockdown have dropped sales to zero. Everything that was bought for sale ahead of Eid remains in stock, he said.
“I am not content with the thought of Eid because things around us are not good,” said Nowsheen Raja, a 30-year-old fashion design entrepreneur. “Now we find meaning to other things of life, like getting involved in family life with dear ones and celebrating Eid with them only. We are afraid of someone coming home as he or she may be a carrier of the virus,” she added.
Her business unit, which sells customised dresses and apparels online, has faced a 40 percent dip. This is despite the fact that she sells online and has no physical contact with the customers as she gets the orders dropped at their homes.
“People have cut down on their shopping. This time only those people are buying who have to. Like brides, for their bridal outfits,” she said.
There is, however, some relief for bakery and confectionary shops. They have been allowed to operate. But Adil, owner of the Groxery store, said that people have chosen to buy online. He has purchased from various bakers and sold items online. Daily his orders are double of what they used to be, he said.
Haris, who runs his eatery at Sopore, told Kashmir Reader that this year he started to drop orders at home due to Covid. So far the response is good, he added.
As businesses have died, so have social interactions. Visiting loved ones and greeting them is fundamental to Eid, but as the virus spreads, it is hitting this custom, too. Children are getting no toys, no new clothes this Eid. They, too, will remain confined to their homes.