No money, no sheep: lockdown hampers Eid in Kashmir

Srinagar (India) (AFP) –


Tradition dictates that Muslims slaughter a sheep during Monday's Eid al-Adha festival, and despite the military lockdown in Kashmir's main city Srinagar, Bashir Ahmad was determined to respect the custom.

But after driving more than 20 kilometres (12.4 miles) from his home on the city's outskirts, negotiating barricades and spools of barbed wire coiled across roads manned by paramilitary troops, he couldn't find anywhere to withdraw cash he needed to pay for a sheep.

"I took a risk to be on the road but this is useless," Ahmad, a businessman, told AFP, adding that ATMs had run out of cash and banks were shut.

Last year, he bought five sheep, but this year, he has none.

"I don't think I can buy a sheep this year and offer a sacrifice," he conceded.

Muslim-majority Kashmir is set to celebrate Eid al-Adha on Monday, exactly a week after India's Hindu nationalist government scrapped the restive region's special autonomy status and imposed a curfew.

Locals mark Eid by buying tens of thousands of sheep and goats to kill in an annual ritual that stems from the story of the prophet Abraham, commanded by God to slaughter his beloved son Ismail.

The meat is then distributed among relatives and orphanages.

But that might not happen this year, as Indian authorities backed by tens of thousands of paramilitary troops maintain tight security restrictions that have prevented people from gathering in large groups.

Though they were briefly loosened on Sunday, by the end of the day they'd been reimposed and sources told AFP in Srinagar that they expected them to be maintained through Eid celebrations on Monday.

Shakeel Bhat managed to reach the market in Srinagar after walking for 10 kilometres, but realised he could not afford to buy the sheep or goats on sale.

"My target was 9,000 rupees (US$127) but the rates are too high. The dealers are saying they are risking their lives to come out on streets," Bhat said.

- 'Interference in our religion' -

Animal traders are just as frustrated.

For many generations, Shamsher Khan and his two brothers from Kashmir's nomadic community have reared sheep and goats through the year, moving them across meadows and mountain passes then selling their herd during Eid.

Khan walked almost 250 kilometres (155 miles) from Reasi district with his flock of 150 sheep to Srinagar last week, when the security lockdown was imposed.

"We have no sales this year. People have no cash and the situation is so bad that hardly anyone is able to come out of their homes," Khan said.

"We have no source of income except for this occasion when we sell our flock and earn money to sustain us for the coming year."

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said the end of autonomy for Kashmir would free the Himalayan region of terrorism and separatism and drive economic development.

But local Shuja Rasool sees the clampdown imposed by New Delhi as "interference in our religion".

After 32 years of faithful observance, he, too, was unable to get cash to buy animals for Eid.

"We are not free and there is no freedom to practice our religion," Rasool said. "I am very sad."

One animal trader who'd been in the business for 15 years was contemplating revenge.

"Modi has made the situation so strict here that it is unimaginable. When he lifts the curfew, we are going to sacrifice ourselves. Just like we sacrifice goats on Eid, we will sacrifice our own lives for our nation," the trader said.