Karachi fruit stalls market Pakistan
People walk along fruit stalls at a market in Karachi, Pakistan January 16, 2021. Image Credit: Reuters

Islamabad: Frustrated with soaring prices and profiteering during Ramadan, Pakistani citizens have launched a nationwide boycott of fruit vendors for four days from March 27 to 31.

Social media has been brimming with posts of calls for a boycott of fruit vendors who are charging above the fixed prices. The hashtag #BoycottFruits has been trending with many people urging others to join the protest. The campaign has gained widespread support from Pakistanis who feel that they are being overcharged for essential items as the vendors fail to comply with the government-set fixed price list.

“We are being charged double, triple the actual price of fruits. It is not fair, especially during Ramadan and when people are already struggling to make ends meet due to inflation,” said Aliya Ahmed, a resident of Islamabad.

In Islamabad, bananas were being sold at an inflated price of Rs400 per dozen and guavas for Rs400 per kilogram. Papayas were also overpriced at Rs200 per kilogram, while apples were being sold for Rs450 per kilogram. Apples, bananas, guavas, and oranges are the main items for fruit chat (Pakistani fruit salad sprinkled with spices).

How did the protest start?

The boycott began as a simple message shared on WhatsApp. The protest began in Karachi city where people decided to stop buying fruit for at least three days to force sellers to lower prices. The shared message urging others to boycott buying fruits was forwarded to more people, and the movement gathered momentum on Facebook and Twitter with hundreds of social media users supporting the boycott.

The most widely shared video showed the Karachi-based philanthropist Syed Zafar Abbas sitting with his family including kids at the Iftar table and vowing to boycott fruits for the next few days. The video went viral. Abbas, known for his social work and free community kitchen initiatives, has called people to boycott fruits to bring down prices to a normal level. “In one day, the price of banana has come down from Rs450 to Rs200 and oranges are now available at Rs400 instead of Rs600,” Abbas said in a video, sharing the impact of the protest in Karachi.

However, some citizens differed, saying that the boycott would not have a long-term impact on prices until the government takes action against the traders, commission agents, and wholesalers who increase the prices. Bilal Khalid, a shop owner in Karachi, also said that a week-long boycott would be more effective. Fruit prices spiral every year in Pakistan during Ramadan.

Celebrities join protest

The #BoycottFruits campaign has also gained support from celebrities who extended their support by sharing videos on social media platforms. Actor and TV host Ahsan Khan, actor Danial Afzal Khan, cricketer Sarfaraz Ahmed, and journalist Waseem Badami urged their followers to boycott buying fruits until the government’s fixed price list is implemented. Many of them have criticized the “profiteering practices of vendors” and expressed solidarity with the common citizens who are struggling to make ends meet during Ramadan.

Despite the growing public anger, some vendors say they are struggling due to inflation and have no choice but to charge higher prices. The government has yet to respond to the boycott, but many citizens say they are hopeful that their efforts will lead to relief. “We are not asking too much. We just want the government to enforce the fixed prices so that common people can also buy fruits” said Nida Khan, a resident of Rawalpindi.

Islamabad authorities begin crackdown against profiteers

In the meantime, Islamabad and Rawalpindi authorities are cracking down on profiteers following widespread complaints from citizens about overcharging and price gouging. Irfan Nawaz Memon, the deputy commissioner of Islamabad, said that teams would continue to monitor markets and ensure that vendors are not overcharging customers. He also said that fines of Rs11,800 were imposed on profiteers and three were arrested during inspections at 112 points on Sunday.

Hassan Waqar Cheema, the deputy commissioner of Rawalpindi, said that his teams are keeping a close watch on hoarding and profiteering to provide relief to the citizens. In the last three months, 86 shopkeepers were booked and imposed fines worth Rs9,694,200 on those involved in profiteering and violating the official price list in the district.