After Ramadan closure, Liquor sales to continue

Srinagar: The temporary closure of a wine shop in the holy month of Ramadan has given a breather to the residents of Dalgate, and the traders, who have been on the forefront for years demanding permanent closure of what they term a ‘nuisance’.
The wine shops located at  Hotel Heemal run by J&K Tourism Development Corporationat the Boulevard Road here have temporarily suspended their business as a mark of ‘respect’ for the holy month of Ramadan. The announcement in this regard comes through the posters put on display by the liquor shop owners on their closed shops. Though, the temporary closure has come as a big relief to the locals and the traders, mostly handicraft dealers, the joy is short lived.
“The last three weeks were peaceful. There were no queues, no quarrels, no push and pull scenes around the two liquor shops located in the hotel. However, as the Ramadan is nearing an end, the ugly scenes of drunkards will return to haunt us,” Mohammad Rafiq, who runs a handicraft store in the area, told Kashmir Reader.
He said that the shopkeepers of Boulevard filed several cases in the court seeking closure of the wine shops on the grounds that it has become a nuisance for them and the locals. However, instead of taking action, the government provided round the clock security to these wine shops.
The aggrieved residents fear that the shops may never be closed as the government earns good revenue from them. “The shops are running with the active support of the government and even projected as a sign of return of normality,’ they said.
Cinemas and liquor shops were closed down in the Valley when Kashmiris launched anti-India struggle in 1989. However, to show that the militancy had weakened, the government opened two shops at Batwara and Aloochi Bagh.  The liquor shops have been a source of public outcry and locals even forced its closure many a time in the past few years.
The shops have also come under repeated militant attacks in the past. On June 30, 2011, a 5-kg IED, placed inside a steel container, was planted near the liquor shop. Later, a bomb disposal squad from police defused the device without any damage to life.  Then also, local shopkeepers forced the closure of shop, saying it has had exposed the area to attacks.
Earlier in 2004, suspected militants  shot dead the owner of Aloochi Bagh shop, Abdul Hameed Sheikh forcing the closure of shop.
In the most recent attack on November 15, unidentified gunmen opened random fire at liquor shops killing a salesman and injuring four others. The shootout forced the closure of the liquor shops while as their owners held meetings with the police to seek protection.
When the first outlet opened in Hotel Heemal, activists of Dukhtaran-e-Millat ransacked it and local residents pledged support to their campaign.
Showkat Ahmad, a local said that the residents of Buchwara and other neighbourhood localities heaved a sigh of relief with the closure of wine shops in Ramadan. The closure, he said, also saw smooth flow of traffic on the boulevard road which otherwise remains choked due to long queues of alcoholics, who park their vehicles along the road.
“But, we will be back to square one after Ramadan. There will be brawls  by drunkards. And many of them will be  seen lying on the streets and roads along the boulevard. Wish these wine shops were closed for ever,” Ahmad said.
He said that relating liquor with tourism was a misconception and far from reality. In fact, more than tourists, he said, locals are seen making bee line around the wine shops.
“It’s an excuse of the government. Only a few percentage of tourist booze, remaining are all Kashmiris. These wine shops are ruining our future generations. Our youngsters will go astray if they had wine handy,” he said.
Beside the traders and the locals, the operation of these liquor shops has also been troubling the staffers of Hotel Heemal, who have repeatedly lodged strong protests demanding its closure.
“Whenever we tried to resist, we were attacked by the hooligans from Jammu who’re running these shops. In past, we tried to seal these shops with iron grills but we were attacked by the goons, while police watched like mute spectators. We have given up,” an official of Hotel Heemal said.
He said that presence of liquor shops, poses a serious life threat to the secretariat employees, local traders and the hotel staffers. In past, he said, militants have carried out series of deadly attacks on the shops.
“What if the militants strike again? Who’ll bear the responsibility of loss to human lives?” he asked