The attacks on apple traders from outside the state and non-local truck driver and a labourer in the last few days has triggered panic among fruit growers and those associated with the trade, particularly non-local truck drivers who load their trucks and dispatch apples to outside state.
On October 14, a non-local truck driver from Rajasthan was shot dead when he was loading the apples in Shirmal, South Kashmir by suspected militants. Yesterday a non-local labourer was shot dead; one apple trader from outside the state was killed and another injured.
The recent killings have provoked a sense of fear among non-locals, especially the apple traders who travel to the Valley and are worried about the future if such incidents were to continue.
In South Kashmir, few truck drivers who have come from states like Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan, among others now fear for their lives.
According to one report in FirstPost, Irfan, a non-local truck driver from Haryana, has parked his truck after loading it along with ten other trucks which belong to other non-locals. They said they are huddling together to ensure their safety. ‘Some locals adviced us to keep our trucks here. We have now gathered here to load our trucks. Once we are done we will leave the state,” he said.
“We come here every year but this time we fear for our lives. This shouldn’t happen with us,” said Dilbagh Singh, who is from Punjab and owner of two trucks. He had kept one of his trucks near the army camp. It was Dilbagh Singh’s third day in Kashmir. He says before travelling to Kashmir, he, and other drivers, had enquired about the situation in the Valley, especially when reports suggested that things were normal after over 70 days of shutdown. “Now, even phones have started working after the communication shutdown was lifted two days ago. So, we thought it will be safe to visit Kashmir. Otherwise, we would have not come.”
Another report in News18 quoted a truck driver, who said they now feared for their lives. Kulwant Singh, 45, has been travelling to Kashmir for over two decades. Originally from Gagomal, a small village of Amritsar in Punjab, Singh eagerly waits for October every year – the height of apple picking season in the Valley – and the most profitable time for him. “From September to December I travel to Kashmir, load apples and dispatch them to different cities of the country,” Singh said. But what used to be the best season for trade has turned into a nightmare for him this year.
In one of the world’s largest apple-growing regions, a lockdown imposed after the government dramatically abolished the state’s special constitutional status has cut transport links with buyers in India and abroad, plunging the industry into turmoil.
The killings have sent the ailing apple markets, one of the mainstays of Kashmir’s economy, in a tailspin.
The killings also have the local growers and apple traders worried. “We are dependant on transporters from other states to export our apples. But now, everyone is afraid and we also don’t want these drivers to face any consequence,” said Mohammad Ashraf Wani, president of Fruit Mandi Association in Shopian. “Our lives are completely dependent on apple business. If such incidents keep happening, it will only make things worse for us,” he was quoted by the FirstPost.
According to Wani, Shopian apple market has more than 200 locally-owned trucks but as per need they require around 8,000 extra trucks, which usually come from outside states.
Witnessing events unfolding in the Valley since 5 August, apple cultivators are paying double for the fare, packing and plucking of apples. Till last year, cultivators used to pay Rs 500 to packers, but this year, since the risks are heavy, the prices have gone up to Rs 900, according to the report.
The fruit mandi in Shopian has been closed this year, amid heavy security, and was shifted to Batpora, near the police lines. Reportedly, since 5 August militants have threatened the locals who were working in apple orchards. At a few places, reports said that warning posters were also seen around the orchards. But details about the posters and who might have put them up, remains unknown.