Shaheed Gunj: So Near yet so Far

A locality in the midst of the main offices of the government, Shaheed Gunj area remains wrapped in puzzlement. The locality has 340 households with most families living jointly in houses, where you have to be careful with your head touching the ceilings at certain places. Nearly 65 percent of houses are damaged as a result of floods that drowned Srinagar from September 06 onwards.

 From the outside, most of the houses seem strapping and any walker by will be misled into believing that nothing serious has happened. While wandering through the by-lanes of the area a group of people sitting in a square keenly focusing their eyes on me interrupted my walk. “Are you looking for something?” one of the plump men asked me. “Yes looking for some of the flood hit damaged houses.” “This way you won’t get much information. Come, we will show you the houses of the area and then examine what has happened inside these strapping houses,” said the plump man who introduced himself as Raja Fida Hussian Khan, organiser of Kashmir Traders Federation.

As you enter the houses your breath hangs in between.  Several buildings have caved in as if an artist using his finesse has removed the inner operating system while keeping the frame intact.  Some houses have developed cracks not one but many. Few have leaned on others and are dangerously pulling it toward the ground. Couple of houses have become paraplegic.

“The one who is well versed with the architecture of the city,” adduces Fida while guiding me to other houses of the locality, “it will be hard for him to believe that houses are still safe to live for after the floods.”

For all the discomfiture that the residents are facing, the government has been “generous.” It has donated them two tents to live in. One of the tents has been put on the main road of Shaheed Gunj near the compound wall of Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution Department.

Shaheed Gunj is not an ordinary city area. It is nestled amongst the main government offices. The Civil Secretariat, Fire and Emergency Services Headquarters, Assembly Complex, Srinagar Municipal Corporation, High Court and Old Secretariat where presently director Health Services Kashmir’s office is, are surrounding it on all the sides. But nothing has moved the government.

Altaf Ahmad Wani, whose house has been declared unsafe, after more than 48 days, has moved in the same building. “How long should I remain occupied in any other’s house? For the past one month I am paying a rent of Rs 5 thousand. I am a motor mechanic by profession, it is not possible for me to pay such a rent on regular scale,” says he.

  Everyday Altaf has to come to his dilapidated house and clear the rubble and litter. “For past one month I am not able to go to work. I have to clear the debris. The government has put our house in unsafe category. I haven’t got the interim relief so far and the money required to clear the rubble is beyond my reach.”

 For such houses government, they say, has announced Rs 63 thousand. They are yet to receive that money. “If my house collapses and we die under the debris, the government will not be responsible for it. For they have already declared it unsafe house. Their duty ends there,” says Altaf with raised pitch.

For Altaf and his neighbours the worry is how long their unsafe houses will hold them. “When the heavy vehicles move on the main road all our houses seem on vibration,” says another resident Muhammad Shafi. Shafi is himself a vendor selling local fast food and grappling with the same problem.

The locality was fumigated not by the government but the committed cadre of Jama’at-e-Islami. Later SMC also helped them in cleaning the sludge from the area.

The assessment team consisting of Naib Tehsildar, Taufeeq and Patwari, Irshad had done there work in the locality. The residents say that officials also distributed 11 cheques of 75 thousand to those whose houses were completely damaged in the deluge. But for others—zilch. “When we went to Deputy Commissioner’s officer we were told by the officials there: where have you been all these days,” residents say.

Even the free rice ration has been cut from the promised 35 Kgs to 30 kgs. Officially most of the houses are unsafe to live for. 102 have been classified as unsafe, 11 completely damaged, and upto 40 houses have been declared severely and partially damaged. To compound the problem of the inhabitants, who mostly work as skilled workers and labourers, they have lost their employment as well.

 The residents say that around 90 percent locals in the area are self-employed. But with floodwaters many have lost their employment as well. Since the water receded, residents say, barring NT and patwari no one has come to their area. “ See at this notice and the money in my hand. We had collected Rs 100 per household and are planning to publish advertisements in the media about our own plight,” says Fida. “What will we do with the only Rs 63 thousand? To clear the rubble will cost us at least 80 thousand to one lakh,” says Shafi.

Most of the labouring class of the locality is unable to work. They are also afraid to stay inside their houses. “The whole day we sit at the squares and discuss things. In the night many times we wake up in the fear that our houses are collapsing,” says Shafi.

The area was at the forefront of the revolt against Gulab Singh’s occupation. Since then the successive rulers have tried to smudge it but the resilience of the people has always taken over. Today it is fast turning into a slum. “We have a historical background of resistance and the prejudice runs deep in the government against us,” says Fida.