For the last hundred days, Mohammad Nasir, 34, a paper machie artist from Srinagar’s Lal Bazar area has been in a conundrum – his concerns stem from the fact that he has not been able to fulfill the demands of his customers, living inside and outside Jammu and Kashmir (J-K), and abroad.

He is the third generation in his family to continue this artwork and is entirely dependent on it to meet economic needs. On 5 August, before the central government reorganized the then state of J-K into two separate union territories – the authorities cut-off all lines of communication.

With no internet connectivity and cellular services available for the last more than a hundred days of the clampdown, Mr. Nasir has lost the business of about 15 lac rupees. “The government [had] said that there will be development [in Kashmir],” he said. “But, there are only losses.”

Talking to The Kashmir Walla, the president of Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries (KCCI), Sheikh Ashiq, estimated the loss in the Handicraft business sector at about 500 crore rupees, including carpet exports.

“Handicraft sector has suffered the loss of about 200-300 crore,” he said. “There is a decline of 50 per cent of carpet exports as well due to the Internet blockade, which worth about 200-250 crore rupees.”

To deal with the customers, and buyers, the traders, and exporters are highly dependent on means of communication. Since the communication gag was imposed by the government, Mr. Nasir says that one could find him “at every nook or corner of the Valley – looking for an internet connection.”

Only the inconsistent reports, and rumors, about the Internet restoration bar him from moving to New Delhi to access the Internet. Though, now, he seems tired. “I’m left with no option but to travel to a place where the Internet is working.” Mr. Nasir said.

Since clampdown, many scholars, journalists, and other professionals, as well as businessmen, have been flying in and out of the Valley to access the Internet.

Adil Ahmad, 39, is one such businessman, who has traveled to Delhi six times in the clampdown “to access the Internet and contact my customers.”

Although, the frequent travels to Delhi cost Mr. Ahmad a lot of money and time, but he is thankful that he was able to do some business. “Due to the situation here, I suffered huge losses,” he said. “But, traveling to Delhi helped me earn as much as that I could sustain.”

In handicraft sector, there is a chain-like formation to understand the trading, which has been disturbed due to the clampdown: An exporter had no contact with his customers due to the communication clampdown and internet gag; hence, he wasn’t able to place orders and pass on the order to the manufacturer. Due to this, the manufacturer could not give work to weavers and hence weavers suffered the most.

According to the directorate of handicrafts in Kashmir, there are nearly 2.5 lakh artisans directly dependent upon handicrafts for their livelihood; which is worth about 1,700 crore rupees as foreign exchange every year. According to a report by Economic Times, there are at least 16 unique crafts which people of Kashmir are engaged in and in the Valley, almost 60% of the households are connected with crafts one way or another.

The partial restoration of communication services bought no relief for the industry. Exporters and businessmen dealing in this sector say that most of these weavers belong to faraway places in Kashmir and have pre-paid connections. Hakim Zahid, who is a businessman trading handicrafts in Mumbai, Maharashtra, isn’t able to establish contact with the weavers.

“This blockade has resulted in losses as we are not able to contact the artisans,” said Mr. Zahid.

KCCI president, Mr. Ashiq, believes that most of these artisans have been hit hard in the clampdown – “and aren’t left with any work.” “A few weavers have closed down their looms and are doing petty jobs to survive,” said Mr. Ashiq.

This story originally appeared in the 18 – 24 November 2019 print edition of The Kashmir Walla.

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