Young voices on Kashmir

How Covid-19 pandemic weaken business activities in Rawalakot

Ishba Aziz Khan
I woke up one morning in June to the doorbell ringing without a pause. I went to the door and found a little girl standing with an innocent but confused expression on her face. On inquiring what the matter was, she said

Mama keh rhe hei ap apni ami ko kahei 300 rupay day dei, mei kuch din mei wapis kar du gi.

This girl belonged to a family living in a rented place near my home with her parents and six siblings.  Her father was a cook and her mother worked in an office as a clerk.

She left our home with the little amount of money she wanted but her innocent voice kept resonating in my ears for days, making me think what her mother would do with 300 rupees for a family of eight. The plight of the pandemic screamed in her scared voice and touched my soul, making me realize that the Corona has much deeper impacts than the health emergency and fear of infection, particularly in the economic realm.

When the Covid-19 pandemic started, no one knew how long it will last or what will be the duration of this pandemic. Some clothing, home essentials and other well-established brands were able to run online businesses but the owners of local shops were in big trouble. The poor people working on daily wages, those selling small products in the streets, the drivers providing transport services to students and many other such people who were already living from hand to mouth and would earn only few hundred rupees to buy simple basic food for their families, had to stay home without any means of earning and I came across some of the families who even had to starve during this pandemic.

The elderly maid who looked after me when I was little as my mother was a working woman is like a family member to us. She is a woman with such high moral values of integrity and self-respect that in almost 20 years of acquaintance, I never saw her demanding anything from my parents. I witnessed the most intense feeling of the devastating effects of pandemic in her eyes. About two weeks ago, she came to see us as she does regularly and said in an apologetic tone to my mother,

Baji! Agr ap mjy 2000 rupay day sky to mei bemari khatm hotay he wapis kar du gi. Meray betay ko kam mil jae ga.

There was something in her voice and expression that I wanted to hug her and tell her it’s okay to ask for help sometimes. But I left the room immediately and prayed sincerely that the pandemic ends soon before depriving many white-collared people of their self-respect that they have been trying to preserve for years.
 

The unprecedented Covid-19 crisis started at the beginning of 2020, moved quickly across countries, bringing a devastating toll on human lives and economies. The absence of certified medications to treat the infection caused by the Virus, led to the implementation of public healthcare measures globally like lockdowns, travel bans and social distancing. Consequently, the socio-economic realm of lives underwent a huge decline due to business closures.

All the markets and public places including banquet and marriage halls were also shut down and the pandemic started spreading so rapidly that even the educational institutions were not allowed to continue their semesters. The closure of all businesses affected the income of large masses of people including the businessmen, shopkeepers, the workers doing jobs in different industries, people working in the restaurants as waiters, chefs, cooks and even the owners of hotels and restaurants.

The tourism sector also got hugely affected by this pandemic. There are many rest houses and restaurants near tourist places where people stay during their trips. As far as the banquet halls are concerned, most of the times the people running the halls pay rent to the owners even when there is no business activity going on as they do not usually own the halls. They have to pay the bills as well and not only the staff gets affected but other people related to this business like the people running décor businesses, the people who provide sound systems, photographers and many others. These people usually do not have any side business or alternate source of income to run their families. They have children and have certain responsibilities which become difficult for them to fulfil.

I talked to some of the local businessmen in my area-Rawalakot- to discuss the problems they faced during this Pandemic. One of them told me that he runs a business with multi-national companies like PTV and P&G. The raw material for his products is imported from countries like Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Egypt. When this Pandemic started, the borders were sealed and the import of raw materials for the production of goods was blocked due to which the factories were not able to make new products. The production of products which were made locally was also stopped. The working staff in the industries was also reduced to almost half, for example, if the industry had five hundred workers, they now have two hundred workers. When the demand increased and the production decreased, the prices of goods were also increased and we had to buy the products at double prices.


Ishba Aziz Khan

The writer is Student of International Islamic University, Islamabad (IIUI). and writes for the CPDR’s website.
She can be reached at cpdrajk@gmail.com

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