Sitting in a brightly lit room, Humaria, 25, has a worried look on her face. She has not sold a single product after the August 5 announcement revoking the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, and the subsequent internet blockade. She is becoming increasingly despondent about the way things are going.
For the last five years, she has been working tirelessly to revive the art of crochet through her online venture Craft World Kashmir. She has developed a vast following on social media sites with nearly 40,000 followers and potential buyers on Twitter alone. She does not have a retail outlet and all her orders come from these sites. “All was going well until August 5. We were expecting a good business this year and had received lots of orders. But all is lost now,” she told NewsClick.
There are nearly 14 girls who work with Craft World and come from less privileged economic families. “It was the only source of livelihood for many of them. I do not know how they run their homes these days. I am not sure whether they are able to manage their two meals or not,” Humaira said. She wants the government to restore the internet as it is the basic right of every individual.
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All forms of communication were cut ahead of the August 5 announcement. Although, it had been conveyed that these were temporary measures taken to stop an immediate reaction from valley, it badly affected the economy of the state. The worst sufferers are startups like Craft World Kashmir, whose business is entirely dependent on the internet.
Like Humaira, many Kashmiri youngsters have opened online business ventures to expand their business. Abid, a bridal photographer, also used to get majority of his orders from the social networking sites where he would display his pictures. He said, “Who has time to go out and visit an outlet in today’s world? People see your work and get in touch. It is a very simple exercise, but the situation here has made it difficult,” he told NewsClick. He has not received any order for the last two months and has been sitting idle at home. “The biggest losS for me is that I have lost touch with other professional photographers who used to share their expertise with me,” he said.
Now, the startups want the government to provide the compensation for the loss as it was their call to shut the internet services in the valley. They allege that the government, on one side, is claiming to encourage the startups, while on the other, they are creating hurdles like internet shutdown or information blackout. “Who will compensate for our losses which we have suffered due to internet shutdown? They (government) enforced it. I have lost more than US$ 2 lakh in the last two months. Who will pay me that?,” Waseem Aziz, Director of an IT firm told NewsClick. He runs an online recruitment company and most of his clients are based in the US and UK, “I have no access to my database here and I am out of business. What kind of democracy are we living in?,” he asked.
To mitigate the losses, Waseem, like many other companies, has moved out of the valley to keep his business alive. “I have moved 50% of my staff to Delhi while the rest are without salaries. We are waiting for the restoration of the internet services so that we can get some revenue and pay them salaries. I have 100 people working with my company,” he said.
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Humaira feels helpless as all the hard work which she has put in to her business has been completely washed away in a small time. Now, she has no option but to wait for the government to restore the internet services. “We can only wait for the restoration of the internet as it is the only medium which connects us with our customers. Government should give us our right without any further delay,” she said.