Not just the legendary Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Geelani. Not just the hub of separatist activities. The town of Sopore in north Kashmir is also famous for its fish industry. Need it even be said—the situation is grim since the sudden abrogation of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir.
“Since August 5, the fish business has been reduced to Rs 4 lakh per day when it was worth between Rs 40 and Rs 50 lakh just prior to that. The market closed and only a few vendors have been allowed to operate by our association; that too, at a few places in Sopore town,” says district president, Baramulla, Farooq Ahmad Dar.
Sopore’s fish trade is among Kashmir’s biggest industries, with over 5,000 license-holding Mahageers (fisherman), followed by Bandipora district’s close to 3,000 license holders. The famous Soporian fish is netted from Wular Lake—although encroachments into the water body have distressed many fishermen in recent years. The state has some 93,000 fishermen and in 2015 fish production crossed 20,000 tonnes in the state.
“Encroachment around the Wular Lake, illegal fish extraction and corruption in the fisheries department are now playing spoilsport to our business. Very soon, the corruption will deprive us all of Soporian fish,” said Ghulam Muhammad Dar, a fisherman in Sopore main market.
Three kinds of fish made the Soporian fish famous. They are found in the Wular Lake. The first type, Kashmiri fish, is white; the second is the Bilose fish (coloured black) and third type, also white, is known as Zob. Another four varieties reach the Sopore market from others states of mainland India: The golden-tinged Punjabi fish, Ruhu, Pankas and Marak fish, all three white.
“All our sales over the last three months were completely locally caught. Nothing came from the other states of India. The Sopore fish business caters to almost every part of the Valley. However, even our local catch we did not sell outside of north Kashmir during this time, due to the prevailing situation,” says fisherman Ghulam Muhammad Dar.
There has also been a tremendous drop in prices. Usually, a kilogram of fish sells at Rs 350 to Rs 400, but in August and September the prices fell to a third or even less. “We have sold at Rs100 to Rs150 due to the lock-down,” Dar says.
He says that the situation is not conducive even now and fishermen cannot take their produce to other cities; even Srinagar (the biggest city) or Kupwara. “I used to get 10 quintal of fish on daily basis; however, I get only two quintals since the lock-down began,” says fisherman Manzoor Ahmed Dar. His regular customers would come in from Shopian, Tral, Anantnag, Pulwama and Pahalgam. However, the entire business is in a shambles since August 5.
The fishermen put the onus squarely on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah for bringing their business to a grinding halt. “Modi and Amit Shah are responsible for the crisis we are in today. They took tourists out of the state all of a sudden. That indirectly hit our business. We no longer receive any orders for fish from the hotels and restaurants in the state. It is total gunda raj. Every child in Kashmir will seek his or her rights from New Delhi,” says another fisherman, Showkat Ahmed Dar.
The fishermen in Sopore town say that they do not believe the government’s propaganda about how development and jobs will come to the Valley because Article 370 is no longer effective. “Our community (fishermen) is a social caste. We even have 2% reservation. Show me one case where one of us has got a government job in all these years. Modi is only trying to appease his vote bank. We know nothing is going to change in coming days as well,” says Showkat Dar.
According to fishermen, the advantage of abrogating Kashmir’s special status will go to bureaucrats and high-ranking officials. “It will not help us in any way. Jobs and day-to-day business matters for one’s survival but the larger issue of the Kashmir dispute still remains—they still have to solve it,” says Ghulam Muhammad Dar, a fisherman. Since the 2008 mass agitation, the Valley has seen many a shutdown and death. “They have to solve the issue so that we can also live in peace,” he says.
The fishermen of Sopore managed to earn livelihood during these turbulent months by one means or the other but asked about those families who earn to on daily basis. “We somehow managed but think of those families who earn during day and eat in the evening. They live in a miserable condition due to this lock-down,” he said.
Daanish Bin Nabi is a freelance journalist in Kashmir. The views are personal.