Verma is an entrepreneur in Kashmir, who wanted to turn the world’s attention from militancy in the region to its rich supply of dry fruits and saffron. So he launched an e-commerce venture called PureMart.in. The company now has over 50,000 retail and wholesale buyers across the world. This year, he had big plans for his business. But then, disaster struck! The region has descended into violence following the killing of a young militant named Burhan Wani in July 8th this year by Indian security forces. Kashmir has been under intermittent curfew since then, with mobile and internet networks being non-operational on most days. Over ninety civilians have been killed during the violent battles between the Indian army and the militants.
As a result, PureMart has almost completely shut down, washing away much of Verma’s hard work during the last four years. “These three months between July and September were the peak season for farmers to start supplying walnuts and apricots, and we had big plans for our business during this season. But none of that has happened”, Verma told. Verma fears he has lost some of his customers forever, thanks to the lack of connectivity in Kashmir. “We have an e-commerce model. And for almost 60 days we did not have any access to internet or phones. The buyers are waiting for deliveries. In some cases, these are huge bulk orders. Neither did their goods reach them nor did they receive any communication from our end”, Verma added. Consequently, Verma relocated his main office from Srinagar, J&K’s capital city, to Jammu, its relatively less turbulent winter capital.
Similarly another startup venture called KashmirOneStop.com, a website that sells traditional Kashmiri items such as shawls, kahwa (green tea) and religious knickknacks to Kashmiri pandits across the country, has almost shutdown. KashmirOneStop.com was co – founded by Meenakshi Rakesh Bhat and Rohit Bhat. In June, the company decided to expand its product list and was in advanced talks with its investors to raise funds. “My brother-in-law Rohit Bhat, who is my partner in the business and who is based in Jammu, had met suppliers in many parts of Kashmir and finalized deals,” said Meenakshi. But everything came to a standstill in the wake of violence. “The investors backed out. They said that if you have a bigger business, you would take an even bigger hit when tensions rise in Kashmir. Our funding plans are on a hold as of now. It’s a big setback”, Meenakshi added.
A delivery boy was injured during bullet firing in Srinagar in September. Ever since, several other startups have decided not to do local business. Some of the startups that Kashmir Business Factory (a government undertaking to incubate startups) incubated have sent small teams to Delhi to run partial operations. But not everyone is as lucky. Verma of PureMart moved to Jammu, hoping to resume partial business. But that didn’t help. “The authorities are asking us to get a tax identification number for Jammu if we want to do business there. That takes a couple of months to come. So I have no option left now. I have no idea what will happen next”, Verma said.
The government of India should take these issues seriously and send more military personnel to restore peace in Kashmir. They should mercilessly kill militants who deliberately cause panic and havoc in Kashmir. Like the other states of India, Kashmiris too have dreams and they want to contribute to their states economy by starting up and providing employment. During the first six months of this year, over a thousand new enterprises had started up but had to entirely or partially shut down operations in Kashmir, owing to violence in the state. The state’s economy had suffered losses of over Rs. 10,000 crores in the past three months owing to companies being shut down. The government of India should put an end to all this violence and help recover the economy of Kashmir, since it is also an integral part of India. Read more on Startups