Kashmiri Traders Craft A Success Story

Kashmiri Traders Craft A Success Story

22 February 2014
Times of India
Shakir Mir

New Delhi: At his plush South Extension house, Bashir Ahmad Butt riffles through newspapers when guests arrive. The 66-year-old, who has a white beard and wiry frame, greets his visitors with elaborate ceremony. He is one of the owners of the GM Butt & Sons, a commercial unit that oversees sales of items like Pashmeena shawls and Kashmiri carpets in the country and abroad. He was very young when his father bequeathed him the family business that dates back to 1895. His father, Ghulam Mohd Butt, a veteran in the trade, lumbered through the historic Mughal Road in the 1920s to bring back carts laden with Kashmir-made handicrafts. In what was then an undivided India, Ghulam would hawk the wares across the country. 'We made Rs 3 lakh in six months in those days,' says Bashir. The trade was thrown into disarray by Partition in 1947. 'We started coming to Delhi directly.' Bashir's presides over an enviable enterprise exporting truckfuls of merchandise. They also own the Clermont houseboats, a fleet of seven luxury barges famous for carrying international dignitaries coming to Kashmir. 'We bring more than Rs 50 lakh worth of foreign exchange to India every year,' he beams. He owes a part of his success to the Kashmiri insurgency starting in 1990 as do many other Kashmiri traders here. For all the desolation it brought, the Valley's two decades of political turbulence had unwitting beneficiaries. Soon after the popular uprising 23 years ago, commerce took a nosedive, tourists dwindled and the state became unfriendly to business. That is when scores of Kashmiris fled and gave a fillip to the Kashmiri trade network in Delhi. 'Militancy dealt a huge blow to the local economy,' says Bashir. 'When nothing was left, even those who didn't have a business started exploring the options in Delhi.' Insurgency was not the only factor but it did kick-start a lucrative business. In south Delhi, 55-year-old Ishtiyaq Hussain, a sales executive at Art India, shares his experience. 'All sources of income had dried up,' he says. Overcome by despair, Ishtiyaq tried his luck in the capital. Insurgency led many tour operators to discourage tourists visiting Kashmir. 'Even then, the demand for handicrafts was high,' he says. Many businessmen capitalized on this. Mushtaq Ahmad (50) moved to Delhi 24 years ago. 'The situation in Kashmir got from bad to worse, extinguishing any hope,' says Mushtaq, who did not want his employers to be named. Mushtaq came along with his ilk to try his hand in business. There are no figures on the number of people who have left the Valley to make a living here. Despite repeated attempts, officials of the J&K's industry and commerce department could not be reached. A member of the ruling National Conference party says, 'No one in the government is going to tell you how many people left.' 'To my knowledge, no such figure exists.' With the Valley regaining normalcy, people like Mushtaq are turning wistful. 'Many of my friends have returned,' he says. 'Markets across Kashmir are packed with tourists. What could be better than working your land in a comfortable climate?' he adds.