How to Overcome Constraints on Entrepreneurship in Kashmir


 A budding young and successful entrepreneur articulated his litany of woes to me. The young business man who has returned from the West after doing his Master’s there is doing well but the major problem he narrated to me pertained to business growth in Kashmir. He said that, “ as an entrepreneur, he could not rest on his laurels. Growth was key to the nature of his business and that if he remained where he was, his business would stagnate and he would either have, at some point in time, close shop and wind up”.  My entrepreneur friend’s apprehensions and concerns are bang on target. There is almost what amounts to a natural constraint and limits on business growth in Kashmir. These constraints accrue from the size and scope of our market and market depth here- all overlaid by the conflict in and over Kashmir. My friend raised his arms in the air connoting helplessness. I , too , could not say anything but as I thought and mulled over the issue, some solutions emerged. One pertains to the Government and the other to the entrepreneurial class in Kashmir. The obvious solution or policy solution that the Government can forge lies in the domain of Industrial Policy. Our Industrial Policy is dated and does not speak to the changed times. The only change(s) that can be discerned in our state’s Industrial Policy are in the nature of tinkering. What we need is an Industrial Policy that is paradigm displacing and shattering – the kind that synthesizes the role of the state and markets in a way that speaks to the Kashmiri condition and conditions elsewhere-local and global. For their part, the entrepreneurs need to think “out of the box” and tap opportunities in a globalized world and the knowledge economy path that increasingly is taking shape all over the world.

* Quality of Products and Services in Kashmir
Curious about the inability of Kashmiri businesses to maintain quality of their products and services, I asked a businessman friend about this issue. His response was quick and perhaps germane. He said, “in the quest of profits in a shrinking market, people compromise on quality”. He added, “there’s also a rat race in terms of the “get rich quick syndrome”. While both reasons hold, but at the end of the say, by compromising on quality and at times merely focussing on quantity, we shoot ourselves in the foot and hurt the longevity and sustainability of our respective trades and businesses. Kashmiri handicrafts may constitute a classic example here. The famed handicrafts industry is dying in Kashmir. The reasons, besides being structural, lie in our follies and foibles: the desire to make a quick buck, make more profits but compromise on quality in the process. We have cannibalized the Kashmir brand long enough but there are now diminishing returns to this. It is about time that our business and trading community introspects and takes recourse to a cathartic endeavour that expunges the unethical and immoral practices. This can add vigour and re-impart life to our industry and commerce. But for this we need a trail blazer- an inspirational example that others can mimic and follow- complemented by Government regulations and vigorous enforcement.

Female Pheran: A fading couture and our cultural inferiority complex.
An observation that is obvious to perhaps everyone but is lost ironically on perhaps everyone is the fashion and couture trends of our female folk. Instead of building upon and innovating upon our own traditions in this sphere, our female folk mimic trends from elsewhere and adopt these trends as their own. One obvious example is the female pheran; only the elderly class of our female folk and perhaps some females in the villages wear the female pheran nowadays. This is both a tragedy and a travesty. There is a mushrooming of boutiques in the vale but all invariably trot out imported fashions and fashion trends; no one, at least to my knowledge, has synthesised or improvised upon our traditional outfits like the pheran. This probably accrues from a combination of a cultural inferiority complex and self loathing nature of Kashmiris which spills on over to our couture and self expression. The big question is: Can this trend be reversed? Can a bold and beautiful decision to incorporate Kashmiriness in our culture be ever taken? 

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