Lucknow- Come winter, the prominent footpaths of Lucknow are dotted with sellers sitting around packets of dry fruits. Almost all the sellers belong to Kashmir. But what circumstances send these Kashmiris 2000 kilometers from their home to cities like Lucknow?
Fayaz Ahmad, a dry fruit seller from Shopian, says, "Because of the snowfall, normal life and trade get disrupted, and people have no income source. We can’t survive by living idle, so we have to come here and sell dry fruits."
The sellers squat at places like the butchery ground in Cantonment, the 1090 crossing, and the Samtamulak crossing in Gomati Nagar, besides being spread all over the city.
On December 17, the Lucknow police used force against the people sitting at the 1090 crossing near the Gomati river. Videos of Nagar Nigam employees beating the vendors and the police pushing them inside a van surfaced on social media. The images showed expensive dry fruits strewn on roads, allegedly after their carts were overturned by the staff of Lucknow Nagar Nigam.
The officials also dumped packets worth thousands of rupees in the Gomati River. The videos drew a huge reaction on social media, with users calling for strict action against Lucknow Nagar Nigam and the UP Police for the treatment meted out to the poor vendors.
However, East Lucknow DCP Arvind Shrivastava issued a statement on X and said, "The Gomti bridge connecting 1090 Chauraha and Samata Mulak Chauraha, which is also a VIP route, is often prone to encroachment. Due to regular VIP movement through this route, the Municipal Corporation and police regularly carry out anti-encroachment drives."
East DCP Lucknow added that the police had learned that for the last few days, some vendors had been selling dry fruits. On that day (17th December), the convoy of UP CM Yogi Adityanath also passed through this route. He added that on that day, the dry fruit vendors behaved badly with the anti-encroachment team. Subsequently, when the police came to learn about the incident, they used necessary force and brought the youths to the police station. They have been informed that this is a VIP route, adding that they should cooperate with the anti-encroachment drives in the future as well.
However, Mehraj, a vendor from Kulgam (name changed), who sits at 1090 Chauraha, said, “I have been coming here since 2011; we sell our eatables here. But in the last few years, we have been facing a lot of problems.” When asked about the road being the VIP road and a no-vending zone, he says, “There are other local vendors also selling belts and jackets, but no one says anything to them. Why does the police and the administration target only the Kashmiris?” Fayaz Ahmad, sitting at the Butchery ground, says, “People from all over the country come to Kashmir, and we treat them like family. Similarly, the administration here in Lucknow should also treat us like family.” He adds that if people consider Kashmir as a part of India, they should also accept the Kashmiris. People should separate the political issues from the day-to-day issues; we are poor people and are not concerned with what is happening at the higher level. He mentions that overall, the people in Lucknow are friendly, but there are only a few people in administration who act unfairly.
In a similar incident, LDA officials threw edibles worth Rs. 35,000-40,000 into the Gomati river in February in an anti-encroachment drive. Previous incidents of right-wing vigilantism are proof of prejudice against the community. Apart from the administration acting against encroachment, on earlier occasions, vendors from the northernmost regions have also suffered the wrath of fringe-right-wing elements.
In 2019, a group of men from a Hindutva outfit attacked two Kashmiri vendors in the old area of the city. Some local individuals intervened and stopped the people from beating the vendors. The attackers told the people that since the Kashmiris raise anti-India slogans and throw stones at the security forces in Kashmir, they should not be allowed to sell their material in the country.
Later, a case was registered at the Hasanganj police station in Lucknow under sections 147, 323, and 504 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) against unidentified men, and the accused were arrested. At a time when the government is making efforts to bridge the gaps with the people of Kashmir, such incidents point out the lingering prejudice that the Kashmiris have to face inside their own country.