Lucknow: Bhaijaan kuch hum logon ke liye bhi kijiye, aise to bhookhe mar jayenge (Brother, do something for us, we will starve to death), pleaded Mushtaque, a 60-year-old Kashmiri trader, after his rented home in Nazirabad area of Lucknow,which was sealed off on April 14 soon after it emerged as a hotspot.
"I am stranded here for the past 29 days, I need to go home, as we are sharing a rented accommodation with five other fellow Kashmiris," said an emotional Mushtaque over the phone.
The Kashmiri trader said he had been coming to Lucknow every year since the past 15 years to sell dry fruits.
"This year also we landed up during winters with other traders from Kashmir and Ladakh but did not have any idea that of the lockdown, which has left them. Whatever ration we stored, finished a few days ago. The money we had earned has been spent on food. Now we are running out of money and food, but the government is not helping us. If a neighbour wants to help, the cops are not letting it happen," the 60-year-old trader said and disconnected the phone.
Scores of Kashmiri traders and other workers, who had been visiting Uttar Pradesh for decades for work, such as selling shawls, carpets, bed sheets, dry fruits and other Kashmiri products, are mostly staying in old Lucknow, including Chowk, Aminabad and Nakhas area. They are all stranded since the past many weeks in view of ongoing lockdown and have urged urged the government to send them back to their state.
“Most of the people are running out of the money for paying rents and we are staring at imminent starvation, if the authorities continue turn a deaf ear to our pleas,” another stranded trader, who wished to remain anonymous, told NewsClick.
Rahman, who sells embroidered kurtas, pashminas and carpets, and had accompanied Mushtaque, is gripped with anxiety, as he has left an ailing mother back home. “Even when we are scrambling for food here, the most cherished memories spent with the family keep flooding the mind,” he said.
Shahid Meer, who is stuck in Aminabad area, had come to Uttar Pradesh in peak winter. He is part of a group of Kashmiri and Ladakhi traders. "We used to come every year to sell our products and earn some money. We made good money though it but all of it has been spent on food. Now we do not have money to pay rent. Even if the landlord is considerate, where will the money come for food?" he asked.
Another common issue that came to the fore when NewsClick spoke to several stranded Kashmiri traders was that most of them were not paid their due amount by local shopkeepers after delivery of products.
"Money is not an issue for any of us. If not now, tomorrow, we will get the remaining balance. But, as of now, our primary concern is to go home. Till then, the government should deliver some food to us so that we can survive," said another young trader.
The traders NewsClick spoke to said that the way the Uttar Pradesh government has sent 250 buses to Kota in Rajasthan to bring back around 7,500 students, should also be done for them so that they can reach their home and families.
Khursheed Ahmad Khan, a journalist based in Lucknow, who says he keeps getting messages and calls for help by stranded people, told NewsClick: "Ever since the lockdown was extended, several Kashmiri traders whom I know personally, startedcalling me, asking for help as they are running short of food and money. They have faced a huge loss as this was peak season for sale of ground spices and dry fruits."
Khan also pointed out that: "Ever since a Kashmiri street-side dry fruit seller was beaten up by Right-wing people in Lucknow, the number of Kashmir visiting Uttar Pradesh has decreased."
Adil Azmi, an activist based in Lucknow, said: "The government is claiming that they are disturbing ration to the needy in sealed off areas, but that’s not true. Today, I received a call from a woman in Phool Bagh, saying she was running short of rations to feed her four children as her area was sealed. When I asked her to dial the toll-free numbers 1070 and 1077 launched by the government, which are operational round the clock, she said she dialled at least a hundred times, but it never works."
NewsClick made several calls to the concerned police station to know their account, but those went unanswered.