Srinagar, June 22: The months starting from April-May till November used to be most busy for Manzoor Ahmed Rather, a well known head chef (Waza) in Srinagar. However his business, like many others related to big fat Kashmiri weddings, has hit the rock bottom for the last three years owing to multiple lockdowns.
In Kashmir weddings being the major social events are a source of livelihood for hundreds of families directly and indirectly. The multiple lockdowns first after Article 370 abrogation in mid-2019 followed by covid lockdowns have affected all the businesses including the wedding industry of Kashmir.
Rather said that as he struggles to find work, he now does menial labor work to fill the employment gap and feed his family.
“Only a few days back I was asked to cook for a wedding. Normally the same family would use 500 to 800 KGs of meat and chicken. Now the family is conducting their function under 50 KGs of meat. At a wedding where over a dozen chefs would get livelihood, now only one or two chefs can get the job done. Rest of the people have to search for some other job. Most of us have done only this job for our entire lives and it is hard for us to switch trades,” Rather said.
“The impact is not only confined to us. Due to one single function, spice traders, departmental stores, butchers and others used to get livelihood. It is like a chain where one person's livelihood is connected to another,” he said.
Like Wazas, tent agencies in Kashmir would rent huge tents, copper-ware and other things. These agency owners say that all their equipment worth lakhs of rupees has been eating dust for years now. Nisar Ahmed owns a camping agency in Hazratbal area of Srinagar. He said that hundreds of persons who are associated with this business look up to the wedding season every year but now for the past couple of years they have suffered hugely.
“Our business is not confined to tents now. It is a huge trade where we provide carpets, lighting system, copper wear, furniture, crockery and other items. We have bought these things for lakhs of rupees and its maintenance costs us thousands every season. When we haven’t earned even a penny, we cannot feed our families let alone maintain the equipment. Our shops are shut and this equipment has been eating dust for the last three years now. Some of our colleagues are at a point that they want to sell these things to feed their families. And, it is not only about us, we provide livelihood to laborers, drivers, electricians and others who work for us. All of us have badly suffered,” Ahmed said.
Rafiq Ahmed Baba, who owns the “Dulhan clothing” outlet at the heart of Lal Chowk here said that the last three years have been the most testing in his life.
“We have survived 2008 unrest, 2010 unrest, 2014 floods and so on. But in the last three years particularly COVID lockdown has crippled our business like never before. With the cancellation of marriage ceremonies and cut down in huge gatherings, our business has suffered a lot. We used to take bookings of bride and groom dresses for the whole year but now most bookings are either delayed or cancelled. I have my shop in the heart of the city, customers from all over Kashmir used to come here but with restriction on movement multiple times since 2019, the business has been hit badly,” Baba said.
After a month of complete lockdown the shopkeepers are asked to open shops for a limited number of days in the week as the lockdown has been lifted partially in Kashmir. With wedding gatherings restricted to less than 30 persons, these businessmen say that they continue to stare at an uncertain future.