Wearing a Kashmiri pheran and a white scarf wrapped on her head, Fazi Begum, calls out customers loudly to buy fish from her so that she can sell all her stock before dusk.
Sitting in a narrow lane in Srinagar’s congested Dalgate area, Fazi, 65, tries to keep away from the gaze of authorities since the region is under a strict lockdown that has been imposed to try to control the COVID-19 disaster in India.
Fazi has been selling fish for 32 years. She belongs to the Hanji, or fisherman community of Kashmir, living in houseboats on the city’s rivers and lakes. Women like Fazi travel to the markets in Srinagar in the early morning hours and work long days while men are out catching tomorrow’s wares.
Shahzada Begum has been selling fish in Srinagar for the past 25 years. She and Fazi wear masks as they negotiate with customers, but they say they do not see the need to be vaccinated against COVID-19. They have heard rumors and misinformation about the shots and they worry about missing work.
“No one in my family or neighbourhood has been affected with the virus so far” says Fazi.
“I cannot afford to sit at home even for a day,” Fazi says. “ I earn rupees 300 to 500 per day. I lost my husband a few days back and now all my family depends on me.”
“I do not get time to think if I should get vaccinated or not,” Shahzada says. “I have trust in God and he will keep me safe.”
Another woman selling fish, Jigar Bano, 58, usually has a spot at one of Srinagar’s busiest bridges— Amira Kadal— but with the current lockdown, she has had to find a more hidden place in the city to sell fish.
“First the lockdown was announced for three days and now it has been extended to six days,” says Jigar. “The place where I usually sell fish is barricaded.”
Jigar, Fazi, and Shahzada all say that they have suffered financially as the pandemic has gripped the area. “On normal days everyone would come and buy the fish but now many people are apprehensive,” Fazi says.