Shaheen Bagh market, closed since stir, opens after 5 months
The nationwide lockdown began on March 25. For the traders of Shaheen Bagh, it began many months earlier, on the evening of December 16, 2019.Updated: May 23, 2020 04:48 IST
Perfectly drawn circles adorn the lane outside shops in Shaheen Bagh market, but there are no customers. Inside the shops, workers carefully check the garments for damage — trousers nibbled by rats, shirts with dust-filled creases. The shirts have to be sent back, washed, and ironed before they can be put on display again.
The nationwide lockdown began on March 25. For the traders of Shaheen Bagh, it began many months earlier, on the evening of December 16, 2019.
“We heard reports of stone-pelting in Jamia Nagar that afternoon. We were watching the news when we saw policemen chasing a mob outside our shops. The police asked us to down the shutters on our shops. We left in a hurry. The whole market closed within minutes, around 4pm. We did not know then that we would only be back more than five months later,” said Sairaq Aziz, a 32-year-old shopkeeper.
On December 16, a group of local residents, led by elderly women, blocked Road 13A outside the market to protest the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, or CAA, which had been passed in Parliament a few days ago. The protesters stayed on the street for 100 days.
As shops stayed shut over all of winter, traders continued to suffer losses, even as the number of protesters on the road grew; the site became a symbol across the country of voices against the Act.
Over three months later, on March 24 morning, Delhi Police evicted the protesters, removed the tents set up on the road, and erased the anti-government messages written on the walls. The Delhi government had issued prohibitory orders to stem the spread of coronavirus disease (Covid-19), that had made its way to the National Capital by then.
While the road was finally clear, the shops had to stay shut. The government had ordered the closure of all markets as a precautionary measure.
With the lockdown being eased, and shops allowed to open in Delhi last week – subject to their adhering to government guidelines, the market has begun to awake from its slumber. But their wares have few takers.
“First it was the protest. Now it’s the disease. We have opened shops but nobody is coming here. Most traders have shut shop and left because they could not bear the losses,” said Sharik Malik, 21, who works at a garments’ store.
From multi-storey showrooms that sell imported garments to traders who sell locally manufactured clothes and other goods, there are around 200 shops in the Shaheen Bagh market.
On Friday, only around 40 shops were open, when at least 100 shops should have been open. The government on Monday allowed shops to open on alternate days, while following the ‘odd-even’ arrangement.
“We were fortunate to survive the protest and the lockdown, but the trader next door has shut his business. He could not sustain the losses. Imagine having to pay rent and salary of the staff while there has been absolutely no business for five months,” Malik said.
The monthly rent for a showroom, which are mostly factory outlets, in Shaheen Bagh ranges between ₹75,000 and ₹3 lakh.
At another store, Rahul Jha, 39, has finished collecting all the clothes that rats had nibbled. “Nobody will buy these clothes. Most shops here are in basements, so rodents and water seepage is a common problem. We will be blamed for not storing these garments properly. When we hurriedly closed shop in December, we just switched off the lights and escaped,” Jha said.
Nasir Hussain, 52, owns an Allen Solly showroom and is also the president of the Shaheen Bagh market association. “I checked with my employees this afternoon. We sold one piece of clothing through the entire day. Normally, during the festive season, we would earn at least ₹1.5 lakh every day. The losses that the market has suffered could be hundreds of crores.”
Hussain said many shopkeepers have not returned to their shops because have been unable to sustain their businesses.
Fridays at Shaheen Bagh is usually a big day for traders. During Ramzan and especially the last Friday before Eid, the turnout of shoppers is the highest.
But not this week.
Most traders said the market’s proximity to containment zones (areas that are sealed off due to a cluster of Covid-19 cases) is also keeping people away. The lane behind the market and another one in nearby Abul Fazal zone was a containment zones.
The few shops that had customers were those selling children’s clothing. Israr Alam, 35, who owns a shop by the name of Israr exports said he hasn’t sold anything in the last few days. “Adults now prefer to wear their old clothes. Children outgrow their clothes, so some people buy clothes for their young ones out of desperation. I do not know how long I will be able to go on like this,” he said.
Many traders said they are worried only about Covid-19 now. They said they are certain there won’t be a similar protest-related closure again. They also point towards a bright white tent on the road set up by the police.
Outside the tent, two Delhi Police constables were busy managing the traffic. Seven armed Central Reserve Police Force personnel had arrived to start their shift at the road. As the shops closed one after another in the evening, the paramilitary force personnel wore their riot protection gear and started patrolling the lanes. They had a job to do. Their task was clear — ensure there is no protest at Shaheen Bagh again.