In an unprecedented expression of solidarity by fruit growers and traders of Kashmir with India’s protesting farmers, Asia’s second-largest fresh fruit mandi, near Sopore in Baramulla district, remained closed on Tuesday.
The mandi witnesses thousands of apple boxes getting sold during peak apple seasons with hundreds of growers, traders, and labourers turning up daily for their livelihood. Therefore, the shutdown disrupted commercial activities that may or may not be directly associated with the apple trade.
“Every day, 80-100 apple-laden trucks ferry the crop from this mandi to different markets. But today, only 3-4 trucks which were loaded yesterday have moved out from this mandi,” said Faizan, a labourer from the mandi to The Wire.
Tariq Ahmad, a tea seller outside the mandi told The Wire, “I used to sell 200-300 cups of tea every day and earn around Rs 2,000-2,500. But today my earnings have dropped as only a few truck drivers and labourers have come here.”
Kashmir valley had remained passive to previous calls for “Bharat Bandh” by different trade and farmers’ unions on varied issues since the armed conflict in 1989 but on Tuesday, all fruit markets remained closed in the Valley to show solidarity with the farmers demanding reversal of new agricultural laws.
President of The Fruit Association, Sopore, Fayaz Ahmad Malik, while speaking to The Wire, said that all commercial activity in the mandi has been suspended to express solidarity with the protesting farmers. “We won’t tolerate injustice against farmers and growers, whether it is in Kashmir or any other place. We stand with the protesting farmers during these tough times,” he said.
Putting forward an argument Malik said that the new farm laws would cripple and make the Kashmiri fruit industry vulnerable to exploitations by capitalists. “These laws would inflict heavy losses on the growers of Kashmir. These Acts would close mandis which have brought economic prosperity to fruit growers and traders. They would also make us vulnerable to exploitation by capitalists and private firms,” he said.
Chairman of the Kashmir Valley Fruit Growers- Cum-Dealers Association, reiterated the demand for the repeal of the “anti-farmers” laws. He said, “All fruit mandis across Kashmir remained suspended today to lend support to the protesting farmers. These laws are also against the interests of fruit growers and dealers of Kashmir.”
The apple industry generates Rs 8,000 crore annually for growers and traders. Providing livelihood to 30-40 lakh souls in the region, it is the backbone of Kashmir’s economy.
Farmers in different states are protesting against the agricultural laws for a few months now. Unions have described the laws as “anti-farmer laws” saying it would leave farmers at the “mercy of corporates”.
The call for Bharat Bandh on Tuesday by protesting farmers with the support of trade unions and workers’ associations saw protests in several regions across India including chakka jams.