New Delhi, July 6 : Red Fort in the national capital has always been a tourist attraction not only for the people of India but also for tourists coming from abroad. However, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the iconic monument remained closed for several months which has severely impacted the shopkeepers of Chatta Bazaar situated in the Red Fort premises.
Mughal emperor Shah Jahan had started the construction of the Red Fort in 1638. After nearly 10 years of hard work, the monument was completed in 1648.
To prevent the Mughal queens and princesses from stepping outside the Red Fort, Chatta Bazaar was built drawing inspiration from another marketplace seen in Peshawar (in present day Pakistan) by Shah Jahan which was popularly known as Bazaar-i-Musaqaf.
One can enter this market on reaching the Lahori Gate of Red Fort. There are more than 40 shops operating in this market but some people have converted a single shop into two shops.
Handicrafts are sold at these shops. As international flights have been banned owing to Covid-19 restrictions, foreign tourists are scarce. This is why it has become a harsh battle for the shopkeepers inside the Red Fort premises.
The Red Fort Bazaar Shopkeepers Association represents the shopkeepers of Chatta Bazaar. Association President Asim Hussain runs a shop in Chatta Bazaar which his grandfather was given by the British Army.
Asim Hussain told IANS, “My shop has been operating since 1893. My grandfather had done a photography course from London during that time, so he was given this shop as an honour by the British Army. Our shop was registered in 1904.”
Tourism has been the worst-hit sector due to the pandemic. The shopkeepers who depended solely on tourist footfalls in Red Fort are struggling to make ends meet. Some shopkeepers had to borrow money or take loans to survive.
The Red Fort has remained closed since last year due to Covid-19. Now even after its reopening due to the decline in Covid cases, there are no foreign tourists visiting the monument. Tourists living in or near Delhi visit the monument without splurging money on shopping.
According to Asim, some shopkeepers have switched over to other work because one can’t predict when the situation will become normal again.
The shopkeepers of Chatta Bazaar even paid the electricity bills of their shops during the pandemic, though the bills come to Rs 34 to Rs 1,300 only. The people working in these shops have been here for a long time.
According to the shopkeepers, the workers employed by them have vast experience in handicraft work so they cannot remove them as a new person will have to be trained from scratch.
The idea of ‘Chattnuma Bazaar’ came to Shah Jahan after visiting the city of Peshawar in 1646.
Asim said that after Shah Jahan, the Britishers again converted the shops here into military shops. After British rule in India ended, these shops came under the ownership of the MCD and at present they are under the control of the Archaelogoical Survey of India (ASI).
Association Vice-President Manish also has a shop in this market. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, he is thinking of finding another job elsewhere.
Manish told IANS, “The Red Fort has remained closed for the last one and a half years. We can sell handicraft products only in the Red Fort which completely depends upon the foreign tourists visiting the monument.”
Manish says the shopkeepers of Chatta Bazaar are surviving on their savings. No incentives have been given by the government and the ASI.
“Since the Red Fort has been opened, we have to open our shops but still there is no work. Apart from this, we have nothing else to do,” he added.
“I have an ancestral shop here which is being managed by my father. I also have a brother. At present, we are thinking of taking up a job so that one brother manages the shop and the other takes up a regular job.”
Nearly 10 to 12 shopkeepers here have shops outside the Red Fort too, but most of the shopkeepers rely solely on these shops for earning their livelihood.
All these shopkeepers cannot sell their shop to any third party. If these shops can be sold to anyone it is their own family members which also involves a long process.