Srinagar: Hundreds of gun factories in Kashmir have been shut down over the decades, but two still remain: the Zaroo Gun Factory and the Subhana & Sons Gun Factory. They manufacture 12-bore Single Barrel and 12-bore Double Barrel Rifles.
In 1962, the Arms Rules Act was brought into effect by the Government of India, making the procurement of a gun license stringent and limiting the production quota to 540 for Zaroo Gun Factory and 300 for Subhana & Sons Gun Factory.
“When the rule was enacted, the gunsmiths were asked the number of rifles they would be able to produce annually. Our great grandfathers, keeping in mind the materials and human resources available at that time, gave a rough number to the government. That number was fixed in 1962 and remains the same till today,” said Nasir Hayat, one of the six owners of Subhana & Sons Gun Factory.
Subhana & Sons is the oldest gun factory in the Valley, established in 1925. The family was making guns even before the factory was established. The skill was passed on to the generations that followed.
“It is a skill that has been passed on to us by our great-grandfathers. We have preserved it and continued the business,” said Nasir. “It is normal in such businesses for the market to fluctuate. In the past three years, the sales have been very poor; the demand for the rifles is no more in the market. That, however, doesn’t dishearten us. We know that the factory will continue to work. Our great grandfathers secured it well during their times and bequeathed it to us. We wouldn’t let it decline away.”
According to Nazeer Ahmad, owner of the Zaroo Gun Factory, the family has been making rifles since the “Mughal” era dating back to 350 years. The factory came into existence in 1940 and has been a family business since.
“Making of rifles is a passion. The business has noticeably gone down but as long as the conditions don’t become worse and the rules on sales and exports are not made more stringent, I am happy,” Nazeer said.
The licenses for the gun factories were first issued by the Dogra Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir in 1944. Later, the Indian government brought in more rules on the renewal of the licenses, and also laid a ban on new entrepreneurs. Many factories closed down, unable to renew their licenses as many weren’t well acquainted with the whole process.
Many of the gunsmiths in Kashmir belonged to Sialkot, but post the division of India in 1947, Sialkot went under the control of Pakistan and many of the gunsmiths from Sialkot moved to Jammu and started their business there. Now there are more gun factories and gunsmiths in Jammu, said Nasir.
Both Nasir and Nazeer blame the prolonged conflict in the valley as the root cause of the downfall of their business. In the year 1989, the insurgency in Kashmir was at its zenith. It became the reason for the government to shut down all gun manufacturing units in the valley. The Zaroo Gun Factory and the Subhana & Sons Gun Factory stayed closed from 1989 to 1992.
“Customers have decreased drastically due to the prevailing situation. Before the outbreak militancy, we used to sell about 10-15 rifles a day. In the present times, we receive about two customers in two months. The government, too, has made procuring a gun license very difficult, especially for locals to acquire. Only when people have the license we can sell the rifles to them,” said Nazeer. “Also, we make hunting guns, but the shooting of game has been stopped. That’s another reason for the decline in customers,” he added.
Having taken up the profession of a gunsmith at the age of 12, Nazeer believes that the business will not see its end very soon. “This is our only breadwinner, and I strongly believe in our hard work and our skills,” he said.
The Subhana & Sons Gun Factory receives army men, retired officers, and bureaucrats as its customers. “We don’t export the rifles and it is only six of us (the owners) who work; there are no outside workers,” said Nasir.
Nazeer currently has about 20 workers, employed from various states. He exports the rifles to various Indian states, including Delhi, Lucknow, Kanpur, Hyderabad, and Surat. “We don’t depend on the local customers alone. We sell to dealers across India,” he said.