By the morning of 5 August, Khawaja Rameez, 29, had lost all lines of communication with his office, Amazon, an e-commerce giant, in Srinagar. In the parliament, Union Home Minister, Amit Shah, called out the constitutional special status of Jammu and Kashmir (J-K) as a reason for its “backwardness and lack of jobs”.
Before the parliament bifurcated the state into two federally governed territories – J-K and Ladakh – the government imposed a clampdown in Kashmir Valley; civilian movement was barred and all lines of communications were shut, including the Internet.
Back then, Mr. Rameez, a delivery boy, while seeing the bifurcation at his home in the outskirts of Srinagar – glued to the television – didn’t understand what does the future holds for him?
Though, after more than a hundred days of Internet unavailability, many entrepreneurial ventures and the businesses, which were depended on the Internet, have shut, or are on the verge of shutting, their operations.
Talking to The Kashmir Walla, the president of the trade body, Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI), Sheikh Ashiq, the losses suffered by the Valley’s business community is more than “twelve thousand crore rupees and about a lakh jobs have been laid-off.”
In 2018, the eldest son, Mr. Rameez, had joined Amazon as a delivery boy in the Valley for 8 thousand rupees a month to support his family of four. A year into the job, he bought a motorcycle after procuring a loan from J-K Bank. Owing to his low wages, he opted for a monthly Estimated Monthly Installment (EMI) of 1,700 rupees. “The company paid for the fuel and I thought that buying a bike would not only ease my work but also allowed me to work extra.”
“[Post the clampdown on 5 August] I was not able to move out of my house due to the restrictions and when I finally did, I was told that the company has shut down and laid-off the staff,” said Mr. Rameez. He added that he saw it coming in the shutdown as the operations of Internet-based businesses “lost mode of survival.”
Initially, the pressure of securing economic means led Mr. Rameez into a state of mental trauma. “Earlier, I was not able to sleep; I was running out of my savings every passing day,” he recalled. To stay afloat, looking for money, he sold his motorcycle. “It was my only mode of earning,” he said. “I regret it today, but that’s what your mind does to you if it is not working properly.”
Now, after more than a hundred days, he no longer wonders – what does the speech of Mr. Shah, the home minister, mean? “[In the past months] I lost my job and now survive on as a laborer.”
Every morning, he stands in a queue near his home – hoping someone picks him as a daily-wage laborer. “Although it is embarrassing, I am left with no option.”
Internet shutdowns are not a new thing in Kashmir; between 2012 to 2018, the government imposed a total of 180 Internet shutdowns sessions in the Valley and this year alone, there have been a total of 55 sessions of the Internet shutdowns till now.
“There is no one but the government to blame for the loss of my job,” Mr. Rameez said. “Or thousands of other people relying on the Internet for their jobs.”
An executive manager (Finance), Aqib Shah, at Ecom Srinagar, a Delhi based company that delivers goods to customers across India, said that without the Internet it has become impossible to carry out business and his company has been suffering losses worth crores of rupees due to the clampdown.
“Our business is depended on the Internet and its suspension meant unprecedented losses,” said Mr. Shah. “We have around seventeen branches in Kashmir and more than 250 employees, including 150 delivery boys.”
Although, Mr. Shah’s company didn’t lay off the staff; they slashed the salaries to half. “Despite running in losses, we decided to pay the staff,” he said. “It might not be enough, but that’s all that we can do.”
Though, slashing the “already menial” salary by half isn’t bearing fruits for an employee under Mr. Shah, Haseeb Khan*. Earlier, Mr. Khan would get 8,500 rupees; now, it’s about 4,250 and he has barely been able to run his family.
“You know how expensive things are today,” Mr. Khan said. “Now getting half of the salary has made [my] life hell. We hope the government restores the Internet, so that we can survive.”
*Name has been changed.
This story originally appeared in the 25 November – 2 December 2019 print edition of The Kashmir Walla.