Aquatic Concertina

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Protesting boys might be happy that they successfully pull the concertina barricades barring them from crossing the bridges and throw it into the river. But it has long-term consequences that even officials are so keen to avoid, reports Faheem Mir

Like Srinagar and Sopore, Baramulla lives on two banks of the Jhelum. All these habitations are bisected into ‘old’ and ‘new’ towns, which are connected by bridges. When authorities want to limit the access, police raises concertina barricades.

Baramulla has three main bridges  over  the  Jehlum connecting the old with the new town. Police use concertina wire to stop protesters to block access to both sides and it is just a routine on all the three bridges. But what is so peculiar about the town is that the angry youth use stone pelting to push away the cops from the bridges and clear the passage. In order to achieve this target, they, sometimes throw the concertina barriers into the river.One can still see the wire hanging from these bridges.

Concertina is not a normal wire. The razor sharp blades of the wire are so dangerous that anybody in its grip finds it very difficult to escape. Since 2008, concertina is in huge demand as it is being used to fence the vital installations including bunkers and creating barriers and checkpoints almost within seconds. An August 2017, RTI application revealed that the police have purchased almost 360 km of concertina wire since 2014, of this more than 150 km during 2016 unrest. Unlike barbed wires, it has a long life and is rust free.

Concertina river coils under the Baramulla river are shrouded behind tons of plastic waste. KL Image: Faheem Mir

“Police after putting the wire on bridge leave that here, possibly for future use,” shopkeeper Mohammad Aamir said. “It causes problems for commuters so (sometimes) some people throw it into the river.”

Throwing concertina wire in the river may have long-term consequences. Some are already obvious.

“I am working here for the last 15 years,” sand digger Arif Khan said. “But things have changed, we are facing new issues, we are not able to earn our livelihood from Jehlum now,” Khan says sometimes his sand extraction tools get stuck in the wire which is now under the water.

“There are many bundles of concertina wire underwater in the town making our job risky,” Umar Ayoob Shakroo said.

Sand extractors in the town cover almost, 1.5 km of the river length from Baramulla to Khanthbagh. But most of them say they are unable to reach the part of Jehlum which comes under three bridges due to the wire.

“It is not only that we  are earning only livelihoods, we  are cleaning and de-silting the Jhelum too”, Umar said. “Some of us say they wish to leave this profession because sand extraction has got risky.”

Sand diggers apart, even the fishermen face problems.

“I used to catch a good number of fishes in a day, till recently, but the situation is different now, a man can catch hardly a few kilograms”, fisherman Abdul Rashid Dar said. “The net usually get entangled with the razor wire and adds to the loses.”

Fishermen and sand-diggers in Baramulla say they face difficulties in managing their livelihoods and partly it is because of the concertina laced river. KL Image: Faheem Mir

The fish is getting rare in the river. Fishing is getting risky and loss-making. “Now, we purchase cheap fish from outside and sell it because fishing takes more time that it was earlier,” fishmonger Mohammad Younis said. Some of them who are brave and strong row their boats closer to the Wullar lake to improve their yield.

Shopkeepers who have their businesses on the banks closer to these bridges have been witnessing suicide attempts. Bridges on Jhelum are usually vital points for desperate men and women attempting ending their lives. Mohammad Aamir said he has witnessed various such attempts in which the jumped into Jhelum in last few years.

But some of them including the sand diggers working in the river, are voluntary rescuers. Irfan Khan, 25, has rescued two people from the river, so far.

“It is like pushing your life to the edge when you attempt a rescue of a person who has jumped the bridges,” Khan said.“In 2015 a woman attempted suicide. I was busy extracting sand and suddenly heard some sound in water and someone from the bridge shouted that a woman has jumped into the river.”

Khan said he moved his boat quickly towards the woman and reached her. She was already in the grip of the wire and untangling her took almost an hour.

In another incident, a man was busy in ablution near Masjid-e-Takwa on the bank of Jehlum. “For almost a week, we searched for him but didn’t locate his body,” Waseem Ahmad said. “I am sure that he was caught in between the wire.”

In April last, a dead body was recovered from a spot near Azadgunj bridge. It was the body of Aadil son of Abdul Hamid, a resident of  Nadihal Rafiabad “The body was caught like in fisherman’s  net that was made of iron,” voluntary rescuer Suhail Kirmani said. “It took us almost 90 minutes to untangle it from the concertina wires.”

If the concertina wires prevent the floating of the dead, does it affect the life in water too? This question the experts may have to tackle one day. Even if it does not, Kashmir can not afford taking the abuse of concertina to the next level, now in the water. Do officials requires a special drive to dig out the concertina from the river that is the soul of Kashmir?

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