Srinagar: A day after a teenager was shot in the leg by a paramilitary trooper from Saraf Kadal’s CRPF camp, parts of the old city continue to simmer in rage. The camp is the focus of local anger, as well as the target of stone-pelting almost every Friday and Sunday. Locals say such frequent confrontations deeply affect their lives and demand that the camp ‘must go’ in order to restore some sense of normalcy in the area.
“If there exists a symbol of hate,” says Abdul Karim, a local milkman, “one tends to confront it again and again to express hatred. Same is the case with this camp, which continues to exist here, much to our disappointment.” Karim was one of the protesting local shopkeepers and residents who staged a 15-day shutdown in summer 2014 in the area as a protest, demanding that the camp be relocated.
“We did our best to try and get it relocated,” he says, “but then police officials and local politicians clearly told us that relocating this camp is a challenging task. They said that since the camp exists around a temple, therefore it must ‘stay to protect the temple.” Like many others, Karim didn’t buy the argument then and isn’t doing do now, as he believes that locals are the best guardians of the temple.
Amidst this ‘deadlock’, Saraf Kadal has turned into a zone of attrition. Areas like Nowhatta and Khanyar have already been habituated to stone-pelting, “But they aren’t new,” says Syed Qadir, a 50-plus grocer in Saraf Kadal. “Both Nowhatta and Khanyar were strongholds of stone-pelting since my childhood, unlike Saraf Kadal which became a centre of stone-pelting since 2010.”
While some bunkers have been removed from areas in the old city, the paramilitary camp at Saraf Kadal – like at Kawdara – was never removed, and went on to become a major source of strife. “One of the reasons stopping the authorities from relocating the camp is simple,” says Mudasir, a local goldsmith, “they fear that once the camp is gone, the people’s anger will then be directed to the nearby police post in Maharaj Gunj, which is a relatively peaceful area. They don’t want that to happen and therefore aren’t heeding our demands.”
However, a police official told Kashmir Reader that the police couldn’t take a final call on removing the camp. “It is primarily an administrative issue and those sitting inside the Secretariat are the best men to deal with it,” he says.
Now, Saturday’s incident, when a teenager, Sajjad, was shot in the leg by a trooper from the camp while protesting against nocturnal raids by the police in the old city, has again renewed the demand for its relocation. “It (the camp) is killing us every Friday and Sunday,” says Gulzar Ahmad, a resident. “To control the angry youth, they (government forces) frequently release pepper gas over the area, choking us in our homes.”
Gulzar says that a few people have already lost their lives due to frequent use of pepper gas in the area. “Last year, an elderly woman passed away as pepper gas choked her to death. There was another man, Zubair, who also died because of the gas.”
Those suffering from lung disorders like asthma have to go through the ordeal twice a week, he says. “To escape this regular onslaught, many residents have sold their properties at throwaway prices and fled the area.” The distress property sale has turned Saraf Kadal into more of a commercial area, and less a residential one.
The characteristic goldsmith population of Saraf Kadal is now being replaced by Bengali ornament workers who, according to locals, control the jewel industry. “As the camp continues to be a source of strife, our customers first call us to get an update on the situation before turning up for shopping,” says Abdul Hameed, a local goldsmith. “This camp must go!”