EARLY TIMES REPORT
SRINAGAR, Mar 31: Their all eyes were on March as they were all hopeful that tourists will arrive in large numbers and they would earn to feed their families especially children, but Covid-19 pandemic destroyed all their hopes forcing them to sell their most valuable asset—the boats, popularly known as Shikaras.
Meet Javaid Ahmed, a 45-year-old Shikara owner, who lives in Dal Lake interiors. With tears in his eyes, he explains as to why he sold his Shikara. “Since Article 370 was rolled back in August last year, there was a complete lockdown and tourism season was destroyed fully with Centre calling tourists back. Somehow, we managed to survive in absence of tourists as they are oxygen for us,” he said. “The last year’s lock down continued till November and then arrived winter. Still there were no tourists despite the fact GoI withdrew the advisory and asked tourists to visit Kashmir.”
Javaid said that the eyes of almost 5000 Shikara owners, who are registered with the J&K government, were all set on March with a hope that tourism will pick up and they would be able to live a happy life again. But Covid-19 pandemic knocked at Kashmir’s doors and broke their hopes apart into pieces.
“We are again under lockdown and there is no question of expecting tourists this season too. As it is a question of life and death. We are struggling to survive as deadly pandemic has gripped Kashmir very tightly forcing us to take series of precautions,” said Javaid, who has three daughters and a lone son, all of whom are studying in a government school.
Javaid said that since Pandemic has already claimed a life of many people and scores of people have reported to be positive, it was hard for him to survive as he had exhausted all his options to feed his family, but to no avail. “I switched over my job for a week and started selling vegetables, but that didn’t suffice,” he said. “Finally, left with no option, I decided to sell my boat against a loss. I sold my valuable asset for just Rs 70,000 which otherwise costs Rs 1, 30,000. I had to feed my family, my children, wife and old parents. I am spending this money buying essentials and medicines for my parents and life is very tough in Kashmir.”
President of Kashmir’s Shikara Owners Association, Wali Muhammad said that not just Javaid, but there are dozens of many other boatmen who have sold their boats to feed their families as they were on the verge of starvation. “First it was government imposed lock down, now it’s a natural lockdown and in both cases, sword was hanging on our heads and it finally hit us all cutting our livelihood into pieces,” said Wali amid sobs.
He said that despite tall claims by the government in November last year that they would help us “nothing happened on ground.” “Many of us have switched our jobs and some were selling vegetables, some are going for as day-long work of Rs 500 but Covid-19 is our new enemy and all of us are confined to homes,” Wali said, adding that there seems to be no hope of revival of tourism as today it’s a question of survival. “We pray to Allah to wash off our sins and end this Pandemic,” he said.