Sitting inside the kitchen of his home, Basharat enquires about the availability of essentials from his wife. This has been his usual exercise for the last month since the nationwide lockdown to contain the COVID-19 pandemic forced him off the roadside in Kashmir’s Baramulla where he used to sell fruits to earn his livelihood.
Basharat is one of the many roadside vendors who have taken to constantly enquiring about the availability of essentials as they are worried that it would be hard for them to make it through the lockdown with their meagre savings. “I am running out of money and have no idea how to run my family affairs if the lockdown persists,” he told NewsClick, his voice thick with emotions. “I am worried about my family,” he added.
Over 250 street vendors like Basharat, who earned their livelihood by selling fruits and vegetables in North Kashmir’s Baramulla town, are now left to fend for themselves. During the past shutdowns that Kashmir witnessed over the years, he used to take up various odd jobs to help his family like selling petrol or working as a labourer. However, the COVID-19 outbreak has confined him to his home, leading to increasing concerns about how to make up for this drop in earnings. The other vendors, he said, are finding it equally hard to make their ends meet.
In the capital city of Srinagar, Naseer Ahmad, president of the Batamaloo Vendors’ Association paints a grimmer picture. He told NewsClick over phone that he has been receiving distress calls from the vendors every day. “These people earn hand to mouth and have no alternate means as well. I get calls every day from vendors who are worried about their limited stock,” he said. The people who have ailing parents at home are the worst sufferers. “They are finding it very difficult to get medicine for their ailing parents,” he said. Naseer represents around 600 vendors who run their business in the Batamaloo area, which is one of the busiest areas of the city.
Also read: COVID-19: Kashmiris Complain of Crowded, Unhygienic Quarantine Facilities
Echoing him, Jaan Mohammad, president of Lalchowk Vendors’ Association told NewsClick, “The vendors are suffering from immense problems. They have nothing else to do. Some of the vendors are left with no money. They are finding it hard to take care of their families.”
He added that they were hopeful that the lockdown would be eased after April 20 but that did not happen, “The vendors often visit my home these days for cash or food items. Recently a vendor asked for some money to treat his ailing child. I also dropped food packets at some homes. The situation is bad. People who sell items like crockery and readymade things are worst sufferers,” he said.
As per the figures of the Srinagar Municipal committee, there are around 3,000 street vendors who run their business on the roadsides across the city. “They all come from economically weaker sections of society. They do not save much and their saving would usually last for a week or two. Worse, their monthly income varies from 10-20,000 a month and the majority of them are the sole bread earners of their families,” Mohammad Akbar Sofi, Chief Revenue Officer Srinagar Municipal Committee told NewsClick.
What makes their situation worse, he said, is back-to-back lockdowns which Kashmir has witnessed in the last eight months. “The lockdown which Kashmir witnessed after the abrogation of Article 370 kept these vendors away from their work for seven months and exhausted all their savings,” he added. He also that the lockdown has doubled their fear as they swing between fear of contracting virus and going hungry due to scarce income.
Initially many people defied the restrictions and set up their stalls and tried to run their business, but police often seized their merchandise or detained some of them. The police has also enforced strict restrictions and set up check points in the city which cripples their movement further.
Tajamul Nabi, with a family income of around Rs 10-12,000 per month is surviving on money which is to be paid to a dealer. “I take fruits on debit from my dealer and pay him after selling them. I have not paid him anything since the lockdown,” he said, adding that he is worried it would be hard to make it through the lockdown as his savings are about to be exhausted.
About 368 infections have been confirmed in Kashmir, out of which 71 have recovered and five have die. Yet with limited testing available and many remain asymptomatic, actual figures are estimated to be higher.