Internet blockade kills zeal of Kashmiri businesswomen

Monitoring Desk

SRINAGAR: Battling social norms and breaking barriers, many women in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir had assiduously worked to build their businesses over the past many years.

Many of them had even given up lucrative jobs in foreign countries to contribute to the progress of their homeland. But the continuous internet shut down since Aug. 5, coinciding revocation of autonomy of the region by India, has brought havoc on the nascent businesses of women entrepreneurs.

Iqra Ahmed, the woman behind the revival of Kashmiri long robe pheran was successfully running an online shopping portal named Tulpalav since 2015. But her business has come crashing down since India imposed a clampdown on communication networks.

“I had also invested a hefty sum to open a physical store ahead of Eid. But internet shutdown took away all my dreams,” Iqra told Anadolu Agency.

While broadband internet services have been partly restored to government hospitals, the rest of the region and its 8 million population continues to remains off the web.

Two Srinagar based friends —- Beenish and Omaira — have a similar story. They jointly started an online outlet dealing in floral jewelry for bridal dresses, children clothing and other items woven in crochet.

With internet connection gone, they have been left without any business, even as their Instagram page has more than 49,000 followers.

“We used to receive almost 15 orders a day even from far off corners of India. But with the internet suspension, we are not able to display our designs and our customers are not able to contact us either,” said Omaira.

A budding artist, Shafia Shafi also finds her art business stalled. The young woman, who started to work as a freelance artist in 2017 was getting orders for her paintings and portraits via the internet. “I had created an understanding among people regarding the art and people appreciated my work. But five months of internet shutdown has killed my art,” Shafia said.

On Dec. 31, Rohit Kansal, government spokesman had announced that internet services in Kashmir will be restored in phases but gave no timeline. The announcement did not provide any relief to entrepreneurs, whose online businesses have been crushed by the five-month-long internet shutdown – believed to be the longest ever internet blackout in the world.

Iqra, whose pheran business emerged from a passion for the cozy winter piece of clothing, is skeptical about her future business in the region. She had also given life to other dying arts like Tila, Aari, and Sozni, by blending them with modern requirements and trends.

Her work to popularize the pheran involved collaborations with models from outside Kashmir.

“Whatever work I used to get, it was through the internet, but from the last five months I am sitting idle with no resources or options left for me to continue work,” Iqra said.

The local Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) in their recent report has mentioned that the lockdown in the region has cost economy more than $2.4 billion.

The 85-year-old trade body which includes 1500 top businessmen, commodity traders and exporters has termed the current lockdown as the worst for the businesses in the recent history of the region.

“We can think of these young boys and girls who were running their business online. It has devastated their hopes,” KCCI President Sheikh Ashiq Ahmed told Anadolu Agency.

The majority of Kashmir’s businesses are internet-driven, like computer hardware, software developing, tourism, etc. Though offline businesses still work there is no alternative for online entrepreneurs. “These [internet] entrepreneurs are completely jobless and there were hundreds of other people who were involved with them to earn their livelihood,” said Ahm-ed. Tufail Matoo, a government official heading Jammu and Kashmir Entrepreneurship Development Institute acknowledged that the internet ban has put to test a lot of youngsters. Speaking to Anadolu Agency, he, however, said it is a temporary phase and businesses will rise again, once the internet returns. (AA)