September is harvest time in Kashmir, but the market in the northern town of Sopore is empty.
Usually at this time of year, the market is full of people, trucks and fresh fruits and vegetables. But this month, just outside of town, unharvested apples are going bad. They hang from fruit trees across India’s Jammu and Kashmir state, one of the largest apple growing areas in the world.
Fruit growers and traders say a weeks old security campaign has cut transport links with buyers in India and overseas, causing the industry to collapse. The operations began when Prime Minister Narendra Modi cancelled the state’s special constitutional status.
Modi described the move as a way to increase economic growth by treating Kashmir like the rest of India. But the unrest that has followed the government’s action has wrecked the economy. This has made people in the Muslim-majority area very angry.
Earlier this month, the market in Sopore, a town known for its big houses and relative wealth, was empty.
“Everyone is scared,” a lone trader told the Reuters news agency. “No one will come.”
Apples are the most important product in Kashmir’s economy. About 3.5 million people work in the apple trade. That represents almost half the population.
On August 5, the government cancelled parts of the constitution that gave the Jammu and Kashmir area limited self-rule. People’s movements were restricted. Telephone and internet connections were cut. And then the harvest season started.
The government said that it wanted to prevent violence. More than 40,000 people have been killed in Kashmir since separatists launched a campaign against Indian rule in 1989.
Indian officials say they have begun easing the restrictions, including re-starting landline telephone service.
The government has promised there will be fast economic development in Kashmir. It plans an investor conference later this year to bring in some of India’s top companies to create jobs and stop young people from joining independence movements.
But now, farmers say the security campaign is stopping them from either getting their produce to market or shipping it out to the rest of India.
In the farms surrounding Sopore, apples hung rotting on trees.
“We are stuck from both sides,” said Haji, a trader, sitting in his house in Sopore. “We can neither go here, nor there.”
Business people who spoke to Reuters say it is not just the apple industry that is having difficulties. Two other important parts of Kashmir’s economy have been hit very hard: tourism and handmade goods.
Shameem Ahmed is a travel agent in the summer capital of Srinagar. He said the most recent tourist season was completely destroyed.
“It will take a long time to revive, and we don’t know what will happen next,” he said.
The lack of visitors has also affected carpet traders such as Shoukat Ahmed.
“When there are no tourists, there are no sales,” he said. “We are also unable to sell across India because communication is down.”
Some businessmen have also been among the hundreds of politicians and local leaders detained by the police since early August.
Many of those arrested have since been released, but Haseeb Drabu, a former state finance minister, said people are now afraid to do business with Kashmir.
“With a few businessmen …under detention, why would anyone from the rest of the country (open) himself to…opening of his books?” Drabu said.
The latest events have hurt Manzoor Kolu. He operates a five-roomed houseboat on Srinagar’s Dal Lake.
Days before August 5, Kolu said police had come asking him to take tourists out of the area.
“They told me that if anything happens, I would be responsible,” he said. The four Indians using the houseboat left. Not one guest has come since.
“Now we have to wait until next April. It’s hopeless,” he said.
Kashmir’s tourism industry has slowed in recent years. In 2014, there were terrible floods, followed by unrest in 2016.
Tourist numbers had begun improving between April and July this year, government information showed. But it collapsed in August. Only 10,130 tourists came to the area last month. Usually, the monthly total is closer to 150,000.
I’m Susan Shand.
The Reuters News Agency reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
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Words in This Story
status – n. the position or rank of someone or something when compared to others in a society
scared – adj. frightened
rot – v. to slowly decay
tourism – n. the business of visit places for pleasure
revive – v. to bring back
carpet – n. a covering for the floor