Abdul Rehman Hajam runs a barber shop in the heart of Islamabad township in South Kashmir, arguably he is one of the oldest persons in the profession. “52 years”, he says. A day ahead of Eid ul Fitr, I set off to get my hair cut. when I reached my favourite salon at 2 PM, I’d expected it to be deserted at that hour, but it was buzzing away with all four seats in operation, three hours at the waiting queue, I gave up trying- moved out. On my way back, I stopped near Rehman’s barber shop, it is no way close to a modern salon- Rehman is gazing at the street, the pedestrians- perhaps in anticipation of a customer.
Around the Major towns of the Kashmir valley, where on daily basis the business worth crores are being done; one finds every third person who owns a stall a non-local, who have come from different parts of India.
Fresh looking iron blades, sharp scissors, fresh water- I took a seat against a giant-sized mirror- the good old reflection days- you see endless reflections of yours. “Earlier they used to say, there is something about Rehman’s shave, now you have deserted our shops.”
This invasion of Kashmir has to stop, Rehman believes. He says that Kashmiri are more gifted in any labour, “you have to come us to know if we are talented, but you have assumptions.” We have fractured our economy and gifted our state forcing thousands into unemployment. “We are not earning enough to even feed our children,” Rehman says.
As the level of unemployment escalates in Kashmir, where nearly six lakh youth are unemployed and are seeking Government Jobs, this has turned into a good opportunity for the non-locals to sneak into the almost every alternative mode of employment.
A few meters away from Rehman’s shop- Arif, a barber from Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh told me that his income on Eid ul Fitr crossed 2 lakhs, on the contrary Rehman’s sale did not go beyond a thousand rupees.
The Non-Locals have already taken up the jobs of jobs of carpenters, painters and other related skills from the Kashmiris, now tea stalls, restaurants are also being run by non-Kashmiris.
This trend certainly is worrisome and maybe it is time for the local youth to look beyond the Government employment, Though, the government under various schemes and flagship programs has provided entrepreneurship opportunities to the local youth, most of these programs ended up in failure.
Tourism players say youth or the new comers are apprehensive to invest in this sector as tourism is universally known as a peace time activity. Peace in Kashmir is very fragile,” they say