Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Apple Princess


While apple festival blossoms in Himachal Pradesh today, Ghulam Rasool walks over the rotten apples littered all across his orchard in Baramulla. In the peak fruit season in Kashmir, the apple orchards are as deserted as the streets. Kashmir sees one of its most discouraging fruit seasons after the economic blockade and the subsequent strict curfews.

“I have lost most of my fruit and what is left is all rotting. The economic blockade has brought us to dust”, says Ghulam Rasool Bhat, president of fruit growers association, Kashmir. We don’t have any interest in out fruits anymore when we see the losses we have incurred. We have lost 60 percent of our fruit already”.

The fruit industry in Kashmir is one of the major sources of livelihood for Kashmiris. More than 30 lakh people in the valley are directly dependent on the industry and 10 lakh more are indirectly dependent on it. They include the drivers who carry the fruit or the workers who load and unload fruits.

Nazir Ahmad Bhat, a fruit truck driver is one of the many who have been hit the worst. Nazir had brought the truck on loan and most of it still remains unpaid. “Now, I will beg the bankers to remit me the interest. I earned nothing this season, not enough to support my family.” His three daughters all aged below 9 are sharing their fathers misery. “We have no money to buy food or to anything. We don’t know what to do now”.

His truck (JK05-9318) was attacked and damaged near Samba on way from Jammu. Even though Nazir has a little to live on, he is too afraid to go resume his job. “I fear going out and drive the fruit trucks.  We can live on meager meals but my family doesn’t want me to be killed in Jammu”, says Nazir. “They pick up Kashmiri truck among 20 others and start bashing us. I dread the petrol bomb which is thrown at Kashmiri drivers”.

With the Kashmiri fruit rotting in the orchards, apples from Himachal Pradesh are fetching more money in the fruit market. “Earlier, Himachal apples would go at Rs 350 but now they are close to Rs 500 because Kashmiri apples are not in market. The Kashmiri fruit is nowhere around”, says Arjun Kumar, Commission agent in Delhi.

As ‘apple prince’ and ‘apple princess’ will be crowned in Himachal tomorrow, Nazir’s youngest daughter, Suman, sleeping next to the flaked green wall, cries for milk.  

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