Migrant traders in Kovalam face the brunt as COVID-19 batters tourism
Zeeshan speaks fluent Malayalam that does not even give a hint of his Kashmiri roots. Having lived in Kerala ever since he was a one year old, the native of Nawa Bazar in Srinagar feels more at home in Kovalam than anywhere else.
But these are hard times for his family and about 125 other Kashmiri traders who deal in exotic handicrafts, pashmina shawls, and jewellery on the beach resort.
Since March, when a lockdown was declared following the COVID-19 pandemic, all their shops remains shut. The beach, once teeming with foreign tourists, remains deserted. Around 60% of the Kashmiri traders have returned home in recent months, although many of those who went back are not happy with the restrictions and communication curbs in the valley since the abrogation of Article 370 last August. “My father Niyaz Ahmad Shah has been running this handicrafts shop for decades. Business has been good till 2015 when the tourist inflow started coming down. But after the pandemic, everything is down to zero. I am pursuing an MBA course and the deadline for paying the fee is next week. We have shop rentals to pay and a home loan, for which we got just a two months moratorium,” says Zeeshan.
Syed Shabir Ahmad Qadri, who runs a handicrafts shop and heads the Kovalam Kashmiri Residents’ Welfare Society, came to Kovalam as a boy of 13 in the mid-1980s. He had set up his own business after a few years of working as a salesman in a shop run by another Kashmiri.
“The people here accepted me as family. I consider myself as a Keralite. I have my ration card and electoral card here. We have our own house, but shop rentals and business loans are still a problem, when there is no income. We have requested the State government to provide us some financial aid ,” says Qadri.
Ghulam Mustafa Reshi has been running Kashmir Cottage Craft Industries for the past 23 years, having taken over from his father who had started the business 37 years ago. He also has been having a tough time in repaying the loans he availed himself of for business purposes.
“With the kind of luxury items that we sell, our business is dependent heavily on tourist inflow. Considering the current situation, we are not sure when things will turn around ,” says Mr. Reshi.
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