Zakir Seenge, an apricot farmer, from Hardass village of Kargil has taken a loan from shopkeepers and his friends to get him going for the next six months. Hardass village is located three kilometres from the Line of Control (LoC) sharing its borders with Pakistan-occupied Gilgit-Baltistan. For the next six months, Kargil district of Ladakh will be cut off from the rest of the world owing to heavy snowfall. Zakir says that whenever he sees the apricot filled gunny bags stacked in his house, he is reminded of the tough times ahead. This year has been hard for Zakir as he was unable to sell off his produce of dried apricots—the main source of his livelihood—after the abrogation of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) by the Narendra Modi government on August 5.
This is not just the story of Zakir but 300 families in the Hardass village which was termed as “apricot village” in 2016 by then Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti. Apricot farmers of Kargil, which is predominantly home to Shia Muslims, are finding themselves helpless in the middle of the civil shutdown in Kashmir and severe restrictions from the government of India.
“Narendra Modi government has pushed us to an extent where we are begging before shopkeepers for money. Our plight has been ignored,” Zakir told NewsClick.
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“The sales of apricot is hugely dependent on Kashmir from where 10% of it is transported to Jammu. We don’t have a market outside Jammu and Kashmir making it more difficult for us,” said horticulture officer, Haji Zaffar. He told NewsClick that every year apricot sales generate up to Rs 32 crore worth of revenue. To transport apricot from Kargil to Kashmir, transporters have to cross the treacherous Zojila pass – the only route connecting Kashmir to Ladakh. Zojila pass, the only pass, will be drenched in snow by next month making it nearly impossible to travel.
Last year, apricots were sold at the rate of Rs 400 per kg. “We had already set prices of apricot this year which were supposed to be Rs 450 per kg. The growing season for Apricot is mid-July to mid-August. After that the season changes,” Zakir said.
NewsClick also talked to other apricot farmers who said that 80% of their family was dependent on apricot production for their survival. “We sell off the produce in August and the money we ear helps us to survive the next 7-8 months,” said a farmer.
As the weather changes, residents of Kargil send their children to Jammu and Chandigarh for coaching. “We have to send our children out for studying as we get isolated for the next 6 months and that affects their education. And for sending them off to other places money is required. Through the apricot sales, we are able to pay fees and buy household goods,” Zakir added.
Farmers also said that another cause of their misery is the restricted marketing of apricot. “If apricot would be marketed outside Jammu and Kashmir, it would have been some relief. But it seems the government doesn’t care, may be because we don’t make up a huge vote bank. We are poor people and our livelihood depends on the farm produce,” another family from the Hardass village said.
No Truck Drivers Available
Farmers believe that there is still come chance left to recover the losses after the easing of restrictions in Kashmir and restoration of post-paid mobile phones which will help to keep a check from vendor to vendor. However, several problems still remain as truck drivers are not willing to enter Kashmir fearing militant attacks.
Also read: Driver’s Killing Spreads Fear In Valley
Recently, the killing of a truck driver—who was carrying apples—by militants in Shopian has instilled fear among the other drivers. “There has been a lot resentment after the killing of a truck driver. No driver is willing to transport apricots to Kashmir fearing another attack by militants,” said an activist requesting anonymity.
“The losses are huge. I don’t know how we will recover from this. The sad part is that the government is not paying any heed to us in the way they took actions to help the apple farmers in Kashmir. We feel neglected,” Zafar added on a sad note.