Kashmir Has Its Own Bangladesh With Problems Bigger Than Dhaka

by Basit Jamal and Musanif Fayaz

SRINAGAR: When India and Pakistan were busy fighting each other in erstwhile East Pakistan, revenue officials in north Kashmir were busy relocating 18 households who lost everything to a devastating fire. There was not much space left in the village so they required a new space for living.

This small habitation, far away from the village of which it was a satellite, officials were keen to give it a new name but had no idea. Then Dhaka fell.

Mohammad Shabaan Dar, one of the family heads who lost his home to the conflagration actually named the relocated settlement as Bangladesh. It eventually became its popular name even though revenue records still see it as an extension of Zorimanz.

“Witnessing the nightmarish spectacle of blazing fire and continuous radio coverage of Bangladesh’s (East Pakistan) war of independence, Mohammad Shabaan would jokingly call relocated colony as Bangladesh,” said Abdul Khaliq Bhat, Sarpanch of Bangladesh, Zurmanz. “It eventually became its name.”

For most of the residents living on the banks of Wullar lake, fishing is the principal occupation, KL Image: Basit Jamal

So, two Bangladesh’s were born. One, a sovereign country and a member of the United Nations. The other is a hamlet on the banks of Wullar lake.

Half a century later when Bangladesh’s growth rate is best in the region, the village Bangladesh is still seeking a road so that they can have better connectivity for the children to go to the school.

This fishermen hamlet, basically a satellite of Zurimanz village, almost 60 km north of Srinagar, is having limited avenues for survival and huge issue in daily life. It is almost half a mile away from Watlab, Baramulla major village on the inter-district border.

Bangladesh village serves as a transition between Baramulla and Bandipora districts. To guide visitors to this transitional hamlet, people often use Baba Shakur-Ud-Din’s shrine as a referent, located uphills of the village.

Residents said the connectivity is a major issue. They loses access to its link road in March for almost six months as the improvement in temperatures washes down glaciated waters to the lake and pushed its level up. This leaves them with no option other than using boats to ferry patients, school-going children, visitors and local residents from the adjacent villages.

Ghulam Mohammad, a local resident, lamented that their village is living in oblivion, and government apathy has shattered their educational and economic structures. “This road from Watlab to Sangri has halted our progress for decades,” he said. “Our adjacent villages have higher literacy rates and economic stability while I can’t count more than ten graduates and a few well-off families from my vicinity.”

Residents of Bangladesh hamlet in Bandipore extracting water chestnuts from Wullar lake. KL Image: Basit Jamal

Residents said they lack almost every facility that would help them a dignified life. “We are solely dependent on boats but for last ten years, we have not been given any timber for repairing our boats,” one resident said. “This is impacting our livelihoods.” Shikar and houseboats usually require Deodar timber because it suits the requirement, unlike other woods. Deodar is the most expensive wood in Kashmir.

Almost all the Bangladesh families and the residents of 18 other neighbouring villages rely solely on two things – fishing and hauling water chestnuts from the lake. Men usually hunt fish and haul water chestnuts while women go to the markets to sell the shoals, and children assist their families in overcoming the daily stints.

“Tell us, how we can survive,” one resident said. “Our life is completely dependent on boats, which we cannot repair.”

“It is a tough life,” said Abdul Khaliq, the headman. “We hardly manage to fill our bellies. Can you imagine, I cannot spare a small amount to bring glasses for my home windows?”

Mudasir Ahmad, a tenth standard student, regretted that there is poor connectivity for his mobile. “I wrote my matriculation examination without attending a single online class due to feeble internet network,” he said. “Nobody listens.”

The villagers said that they have been relying on the lake for generations. They said they have been making suggestions to the new managers of the lake but their suggestions are hardly taken seriously. Instead of helping us grow, they ensure their interventions make us poorer on daily basis.

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