The impact of the Pandemic, the following lockdown and the subsequent economic slowdown on the Qurbani market and the people related to the trade has been huge. Local breeders who herd the stock of animals purposely for the occasion say they are struggling to find buyers.
Javaid Ahmad is trying to keep his herd at bay while his business partner Mohammad Zafar is engaged in a laborious negotiation with a potential buyer at the picturesque Fore-Shore road on the banks of the Dal Lake. After an hour-long bargain, raising his eyebrows to signal his partner, Zaffar reluctantly nods to the deal.
“I expected to sell this animal for at least Rs 12,000 but for the lack of demand, I have sold it for Rs 8,000 which is probably lower than the money I have spent on the animal,” says Zaffar.
“This is an annual festival and we pin our hopes on this occasion but the situation this year, like 2019, has dashed the chances of normal business,” he adds.
The government had imposed a strict curfew after the abrogation of Article 370 and bifurcation of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir into two union territories of J&K and Ladakh on August 5 last year, which followed with low-key festivities on the occasion of Eid-ul-Azha last year in the valley of Kashmir.
At a distance of two kilometers from Zaffar’s herd, Abdul Majeed and his son Irfan have gathered their herd underneath a shadowy Chinar tree near the Hazratbal shrine in Srinagar, to make sales.
Trimmed and dyed with traditional henna, the sacrificial sheep look stout and healthy. Some people had shown interest in this stock, but nobody is ready to pay the genuine price.
“These are sheep home-raised with care, purposely for this occasion, but unfortunately there are no buyers for the quality breed in these Pandemic conditions,” laments Abdul. Though they have been continuously coming to this place from Khimber to sell sheep for many years, they say they have never seen the market this bad.
The valley of Kashmir meets most of its meat requirements from markets like Rajasthan and Haryana, but several local breeders raise sheep and other animals purposely for the Bakr-Eid market. However, this year, they say their animals might just stay with them.
Idrees Hussain, a commerce graduate and a young entrepreneur from Srinagar has established a sheep farm in the neighboring district of Budgam with the help of the Government. He has raised 50 sheep, all Marino and Dhumba breed, for the occasion of Eid specifically.
Despite advertisements and social media campaigns, Idrees is yet to see his first sale.
“I have now decided to display the stock around Hyderpora bypass in hope of buyers for my well-bred stock,” says the tech-savvy Idrees.
“Picture from Idgah, one of the capital city’s major Qurbani Markets is also grim. I have been able to sell only one sheep for the last five hours,” says Mushtaq, who has brought a herd of 30 sheep from Sopore.
Mudasir Ahmad Rather voices the same concern from Soibugh Budgam.
“Price of an oxen averages from Rs 30,000 to 40,000. The market is so damp that I have sold some animals for Rupees 20,000 to 25,000 only,” says Rather.
The COVID Pandemic and the subsequent health emergency have thrown the world into a grip of uncertainty. The Health emergency has changed the social engine, and lack of employment, dried-up sources of income coupled with the partial closure of economic enterprises has brought the potential and traditional buyers of sacrificial animals to a halt.
Shamim Ahmad, who earlier sacrificed seven average-sized lambs on the occasion every year, has no intention to repeat the same this year. “Amidst the health emergency and lack of hygienic means, how can one ensure the distribution of meat to the poor without the risk of infection,” asks Shamim.
The doctors too advice caution.
“Pandemics can’t change religious bindings and obligations. People have to do mandatory Qurbani, and there is no harm in sacrificing animals. COVID is airborne or fomite borne disease and can’t spread through meat. But people must follow the protocol of physical distancing, wearing a mask while sacrificing and distributing the meat,” Doctor Suhail Naik, President of Doctors Association of Kashmir (DAK) says.
“Health emergency apart, people have not been able to earn for five consecutive months now. I used to perform the sacrifice of two animals, but this year I am not in a position to perform any, for I have not been able to earn a single penny since march this year,” rues a houseboat owner and a tour operator, Haji Ali Mohammad.
“The economic slowdown, loss of jobs, salary cut, freezing of Dearness Allowance of government employees, reduced per capita income coupled with the recent rise in fuel prices are some of the main reasons for the decreased purchasing power of the people,” explains Professor Bashir Ahmad Joo, Professor of Economics at the University of Kashmir.
Under such conditions, many people tend to cut their expenditures, adds Professor Joo.
The picture from other parts of the valley is not so different. Absence of normal economic activity, the health emergency, Lock and Unlocks in addition to the prevailing uncertainty, have blemished the Qurbani market, and people associated with the trade say they never want to see a year like this again.