Tension in Kashmir worries traders in Kerala

Tension in Kashmir worries traders in Kerala

Niyaz, a trader from Kashmir who has been living in Kovalam for more than 20 years, also said shared his concerns over the growing tension at home. DH Photo.

As tension mounts in Kashmir, its effect is felt by the scores of Kashmiri traders in the southern extremity of the country at Kovalam, a global tourist spot in the Thiruvananthapuram district of Kerala.

Though they feel safe and secure here, over a hundred Kashmiri traders at Kovalam, about 15 kilometres from the state capital, are quite concerned about the safety of their immediate kin back home.

“Obviously all of us are worried about the unfortunate developments in Kashmir these days as our near and dear ones are there. But here in Kerala, we feel like home as most of us are moved here decades ago. People do not see us as outsiders now. Even our children are studying here and most of us also speak Malayalam,” said Muzafar, a handicraft trader at the Kovalam beach and the president of the Kashmiri Handicraft Traders Welfare Association at Kovalam.

Muzafar is especially concerned as his parents are in Srinagar. “My father was among the first batch of traders who moved to Kovalam in the late 1970s to eke out a living. But as I took over the business, he retired and is now living in Kashmir,” said Muzafar.

Irshad, a young salesman at a handicraft shop at Kovalam, is quite eager to return to the Srinagar and join his parents there. “The place my parents live is situated in a very safe location away from the border areas but I plan to return to Kashmir by next month,” he said.

Qazi, who is also a second-generation handicraft vendor at Kovalam, said it has been almost four years since he went to Kashmir to meet his relatives.

According to Qazi, poor business at Kovalam over the last couple of years has led to some even winding up their business and return to homes in their native. However, if the tension continues at Kashmir, they would have to look for other destinations. "The problems created by one or two persons are causing difficulties to the entire people of Kashmir," he said.

Niyaz, another trader from Kashmir who has been living in Kovalam for more than 20 years, also said shared his concerns over the growing tension at home. "Already the sales over the last few tourist seasons have been poor. The escalating tension at Kashmir is like adding salt to our wounds," he said.

The Kashmiri traders in Kovalam, who sell a range of handicraft items from various parts of the country as well as items like Kashmiri shawls, have faced a slump in business over past few years. The traders attribute this to various factors: reports of the Nipah virus outbreak in Kerala, the floods in 2018 and improper maintenance of the tourist spot at Kovalam.

Quasi, a trader, said that where he had 20 customers every day, he counted himself lucky if one or two people stopped by his shop. According to Quasi, the way the media report framed the problems in Kerala were responsible for the slump in tourism, which has affected the livelihoods of traders like him in the state.