Srinagar: Post unlock 2.0, Bashir Ahmad Bhat, 55, formed a group of six artisans and decided to sell hand-made shawls outside Jammu and Kashmir.
Hoping for good business during the festive season, the group toured Kolkatta, Jaipur, New Delhi, and other cities. The demand was at its peak around Christmas.
Come January, Omicron started wreaking havoc in the country. Night curfew and weekend curbs brought back the horrors of the lockdown. Bhat and his group panicked and returned to the valley with unsold stocks.
“Our entire stocks of shawls were sold ahead of Christmas. The demand was such that we had to travel back to the valley to get more shawls. I have unsold shawls worth Rs 2 lakh in my inventory,” he said
Like Bhat, scores of the dealers and shopkeepers are returning to the valley in view of the drop in demand and a sudden surge in COVID-19.
“Given the past experience, many shopkeepers have returned to the valley. The sales for handicrafts have dipped as people now save money for the essentials. There are rumors that lockdown may be reimposed,” said Sajad Ahmad, who owns a handicrafts shop in Goa.
Kashmir Pashmina Organisation, an apex body of weavers, dealers, and exporters told The Kashmir Monitor that the handicrafts have been hit by more than 70 percent this month.
“December was a good month for handicrafts. Ahead of Christmas and New Year, people placed orders for different items. Suddenly, the demand dipped after the weekend lockdown was imposed in many states and countries. The demand fell by more than 70 percent,” senior vice-president of the organization Musadiq Shah said.
Earlier in June, the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries said handicraft products worth Rs 600 crore were lying unsold in the valley.
In fact, the downslide started after 2016 when the valley witnessed one of the biggest lockdowns after the killing of Burhan Wani.
In 2016-17, handicrafts including carpet, shawl, paper machie, crewel, wood carving and worth Rs 1151.12 crore were exported from Jammu and Kashmir.
The exports dropped in 2017-18 when handicrafts valuing 1090.12 crore were exported from Jammu and Kashmir followed by Rs 917.93 crore in 2018-19.
In 2019-2020 when the Centre abrogated article 370, goods worth Rs 935.25 crore were exported. And most of them were sold in the first two quarters.
COVID-19 affected every sector. Handicrafts exports dropped to Rs 635.52 crore in 2020-21.
Director Handicrafts and Handloom Mahmood Ahmad Shah said that the handicrafts sector has suffered “to some extent” due to the current COVID-19 wave.
“The production, no matter, will improve. But to some extent, the business of handicrafts has got affected. Even many of our promotional programmes had to be canceled due to the COVID-19 surge,” he said.