SRINAGAR, India – More than seven weeks after India stripped Kashmir of its autonomy, shopkeepers are refusing to open completely in opposition to the central government’s decision as many of them have formed a new pattern in business timings.
Shops open up briefly at the break of the dawn, shut down throughout the day and start up again for a couple of hours as the sun goes down.
The strike is observed to protest against the government’s move on 5 August to revoke the special rights granted to the region, which is disputed between India and Pakistan.
Arshid Dar, a grocery seller in an old area of Srinagar, the Kashmir’s summer capital, hurriedly attended to his customers before he pulled the shutter down after finishing his two-hour morning shift.
“I cannot go against the new norm,” Dar told Efe. “It (the shutdown) is for a national cause. We want to register our peaceful protest against what has been done to us.”
Shops in Srinagar’s main business hub of Lal Chowk, named after Red Square in Moscow, also open up for morning or evening hours as is the case with other market places in the valley of about seven million people.
The government’s decision to strike down the constitutional provision was preceded by the deployment of extra tens of thousands of troops, the cutting of communication networks and the imposition of strict curfew to thwart possible widespread protests.
The restrictions have been eased in parts of the Himalayan valley but tension runs high amid a complete shutdown against the move.
Almost all Kashmiri politicians in the top rung of separatist and pro-India groups have been held in jails or their homes turned into prisons amid a government ban on political activities.
As such, the strike, also observed by students, appears spontaneous without being backed by a known political outfit.
Anonymous posters and letters are seen pasted in mosques and other public places asking people to follow the new routine and observe shutdown during the day.
Though the authenticity of these posters is not known, people follow the diktats almost religiously.
“We are confused to see posters almost every day,” Abdul Manan, a retailer in a Srinagar neighborhood, told Efe.
Manan operates his business from the same locality where unknown gunmen shot dead a shopkeeper in August after he had opened up his store.
At least two shops were damaged in mysterious fire incidents in the last 10 days in south Kashmir’s Shopian town, around 60 km from Srinagar.
Most of the shopkeepers are satisfied with the new routine of conducting businesses for a few hours only. But some like Zulfiqar Sodagar, a fruit vendor selling perishables, are worried.
“Short shelf life of fruits demands full-time business. Otherwise, one is sure to face losses,” Sodagar, who has to feed his two kids, his wife and parents, told Efe.
Many others like Mir Imtiyaz, a provisional store owner in Lal Chowk, have started worrying about their stocks as the market supply chain has been paralyzed in the wake of restrictions and the shutdown.
“We are fast running out of stock. If supplies reach us consistently, we can manage with the limited business hours,” Imtiyaz told Efe.
The new business timing, however, has not gone well with salesmen who are fast losing their jobs as the valley reels under one of the worst ever economic crises with major industries, including tourism, trade, and horticulture, witnessing huge losses.
An office-bearer of Lal Chowk Traders Association told Efe that at least 15,000 salesmen worked in the business establishments in and around the business hub.
“I think many traders have already informed their salesmen to forget about salaries,” the office-bearer said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because dozens of trade union leaders and representatives have also been arrested in the government crackdown.