Around 50 kilometres from Srinagar, the apple district of Kashmir is draped in white. The roads are slippery and the villages present a picturesque background to create cinematographic magic on the silver screen. This dreamy vision though is interrupted by heavy security cordons as you enter Shopian from its main market area.
Writings on army barrack walls promise ‘armed response’ to ‘trespassers’. Security personnel carry out searches of all vehicles amid reports of an ongoing encounter at noon in a nearby village. Walls have been whitewashed or scratched to hide slogans hailing Pakistan or Zakir Musa and Burhan Wani, or terrorists sheltered across the Line of Control (LoC). What also catches one’s eyes as you snake out of the check points are the apple-laden trees damaged under the weight of snow.
“All the Produce Is Rotting in the Mandis”: Apple Farmers Mourn
The sudden heavy snowstorm on 7 November threw an already paralyzed life in South Kashmir further out of gear. Farmers here claimed major losses following the snow-caused damage. Mohammad Yakub has been trading in apples for the past 25 years with an annual turnover of nearly Rs 6 to 7 crores.“Almost 80 percent of the plants damaged and the apples that would drop only post mid-November are destroyed completely. Some 80 percent of produce which was packed already in cartons lie damaged, while some 60 percent of those in wooden boxes have been destroyed,” says Yakub.
Yakub sells his apples to markets in Southern India including Coimbatore, Chennai, Hyderabad.
He questions the tall claims of the Modi government assuring apple farmers of ‘buying all their produce at attractive prices’ through NAFED in the newly-reorganised Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir.
“My friend, an apple producer, supplied his produce in first week of October. He has till date not received any money. Also the produce is rotting in the mandis as they don’t have vehicles or storage arrangements. Look at the condition of the fruits in the Mandi after the snowstorm,” says Yakub. He also adds that the government offer of competitive rates will benefit no one, unless the produce is procured and paid for in a timely manner.
Bureaucratic NAFED Scheme, Fear of Militants
Mohammad Ashraf Wani, President, Fruit Growers and Dealers Association of Shopian expresses similar sentiments. He underlines that the current procurement process by NAFED is very long drawn one. “NAFED has been roped in to buy apples from growers, but the process is very long and bureaucratic. When a grower takes his fruits to the mandi, he may have to wait for 7 to 10 days before he can sell his harvest, after completion of formalities. We have requested the government to simplify processes like ‘gradings’, so that growers can sell most of their produce to NAFED. Growers have not had any benefits so far,” says Ashraf Wani.
There is also the palpable worry about the security situation, with at least 7 apple traders — including non-locals — and drivers being killed by suspected militants in the past month.
Some apple truck drivers do not want their images captured on video. People avoid commenting or taking sides on the issue. “The situation is not good. All the Kashmiris and Indians are paying a price for their ‘sins’ here. These are unknown assailants who killed traders. We cannot say if these are militants or agencies and who did it and how,” argues Yakub. “The media has been exaggerating the presence of militants here. Yes, there is militancy here. But it is being blown out of proportion by the media. The situation is moving towards normalcy. We want peace here, and want to live with dignity. The government has to take steps to win hearts. As Kashmiris, we do not want anyone to die. We want that India and Pakistan should sit down and resolve this issue permanently. We do not want any soldier or any civilian to die. We do not want any bloodshed in Paradise,” says Ashraf Wani passionately.
Is the Situation Moving Towards the Vision of a ‘Naya’ Kashmir?
Wani, who is also an educationist, recalls how people went into complete shock when the 5 August decision (to scrap J&K’s special status) was announced. He also cautions against the government push towards industries, and says, tourism and horticulture are the two prime sectors that need to be on the development radar.
When asked if the situation will now normalise to a promised ‘Naya’ Kashmir, Wani says only time can tell, and once the political process restarts, things will become clearer.
“The problem right now is that all the mainstream political leaders are under detention. When they come out, we will get to know what the real situation is. Till the political leaders are are under detention, and there is no political movement, it will be wrong to say that the situation is under control or that normalcy has been restored,” he says. “We will get to know if people have accepted these decisions or rejected them only when the political process here starts again. If mainstream India says these are their own people, then they should not snatch things away from them. You gift things to your own people,” Wani adds.
(Smita Sharma is an independent journalist and tweets at @Smita_Sharma. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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