Here's why startups in Kashmir are becoming victims to continued unrest in the valley

While the government claims the restoration of normalcy in Kashmir, startups have been perpetually looming in rough waters

After facing months of hiccups following last year’s unrest, a group of Kashmiri youth started a joint venture to offer home delivery service for restaurants in Srinagar. The startup was scheduled to launch its mobile phone app on March 9. But hours before the launch, civilian killings in South Kashmir proved a spoilsport. Pained, the entrepreneurs postponed the inaugural ceremony, something which hit their business prospects even before its commencement.

It was a day of killings in Kashmir, from South to North. While two militants were gunned down in Pulwama, two civilians were killed and over a dozen wounded in subsequent protests in Pulwama. In the evening a militant was killed in North Kashmir’s Bandipora. After the escalation of violence, the separatists called for a hartal on March 10, yet again paralyzing the life in the region.

The successive regimes may claim that normalcy has been restored in the valley, the startups have been perpetually struggling. While experienced hands in business manage to wade through troubled waters through what they call as “beg, borrow and steal”, the freshers end up hapless.

The young entrepreneurs opine that unless killings come to an end, setting up a business is like playing a gamble. Iqbal Ahmed curses the day he opted to open a guesthouse. In July 2016, within days of his getting the permission to run guesthouse, Hizbul commander Burhan Muzaffar Wani was killed, dragging Kashmir into longest ever agitation since 1990s.

Nine months on, the inauguration of the guesthouse is awaited.  “Looking at the influx of tourists that time I was hoping to do good business but I have ended up suffering losses worth lakhs invested in a guesthouse which is yet to find takers,” he grieved.

Another entrepreneur Meraj Gulzar who runs an IT venture, MIPS Technologies said that doing business is getting difficult with each passing day,  “Whenever I see some load carrier ferrying office furniture, I start laughing and speak to myself ‘See, another man is committing suicide. Wish someone guides him better’.”

Many believe that government has misplaced its priorities. At a time when protests need to be avoided for normalcy to get sustainable space, the encounters end up attracting more protests. And this cycle of public outburst in support of militants is turning into a chain reaction, where every killing glamorizes the pro-azaadi sentiment further.

As the situation in Kashmir continues to be tricky, many youngsters have been migrating to what is seen as “greener pastures.” Take the case of Shabir Ahmed, a techie. After working outside with software majors for around a decade, this computer engineer had returned to his homeland in 2015 to start his own IT venture.

Though Shabir came up with a startup, his dream venture couldn’t live beyond a few weeks. “As the hartals and curfews continued, I didn’t earn anything but only suffered, both financially and mentally,” he spoke baring his heart. Helpless, Shabir shut his firm and is again trying for a job outside.