Losing Identity


Old town Srinagar has for decades been a second home for many Dard-Shin inhabitants of Gurez. They have carved a niche for themselves here, and are now fast joined by many others from the ethnic group, displaced by the under-construction NHPC power project and dam in the small militarised valley along the LoC. Bilal Handoo reports.

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Photo: Bilal Bahadur
Photo: Bilal Bahadur

Munawar Khan is new in downtown Srinagar. He is a Dard-Shin from Gurez who has lived his life so far in the remote Tulail area of Gurez near the Line of Control. Khan’s family followed the footsteps of many others from Gurez in search of a better life. He attributes abject poverty in his village as the main reason behind the shift. The family now lives in a rented home in Khanyar.

Many areas in the old city quarters like Khanyar, Nawhatta, Zaina Kadal, Nawa Kadal and Naid Kadal have been cradles for the Dard-Shin tribe. Naid Kadal, in particular, has been a hub for them because they find employment with Kashmiri Chefs (Waaza) and they been related to this occupation for many years.

Nazir Mir of Dawar, the main town of Gurez, a chef has spent three decades of his life here. In the early 1980’s he came to downtown with his parents and slowly picked up the skills for Waazwan making (Kashmiri cuisine). Today he makes around Rs 15000 a month, a dream income in Gurez. Like him, other people of his tribe are quite content with the earnings from this occupation and some have already purchased their houses in the city.

Gurez valley, once a part of fabled and ancient Silk Route connected Kashmir valley with Gilgit and Kashgar. They are coming in large numbers either to settle or earn a better livelihood. With the passage of time they have created a distinct name for themselves among the Wazas. Today in this volatile area of Srinagar, the Dard-Shin people are the most sought after chefs with few native chefs like Bhandharis and Khosas remaining. There are some household names in this tribe who are often hired for preparing feasts for ministers. In fact people in this area believe that in the coming days, Dard-Shin people will be lock, stock and barrel a significant part of this traditional food industry of Kashmir.

The downtown Srinagar area is likely to receive more people from Gurez courtesy 330-MW Kishanganga hydro-electric project which is displacing 362 families in the three villages of Badwan, Wanpora and Khopri. Due to unavailability of land in this heavily militarised region close to Line of Control, the authorities have decided to rehabilitate the Dard-Shin people in Srinagar.

Divisional Commissioner of Kashmir Asghar Samoon, told the Tehelka magazine last year that Gurez tribes were being paid more because they are not only losing land but also their culture, civilisation, and will probably become extinct over the next few decades, thanks to the hustle and bustle of Srinagar.

His views were also endorsed by Abdul Majeed Wani of Baktoor Village of Gurez, who lives on rent in Waazpora area of downtown. He feels that a majority of Gurez people identify themselves with downtown due to employment they receive here.

Once the Dard-Shin tribe are displaced from their villages to Srinagar, the speakers of the Shina language will lose their culture, traditional livelihoods and roots. Downtown has already become the preferred refuge for them. They have so far managed to protect their language and culture to some extent because the congregated numbers in which they live in some neighbourhoods.

Gurez was a part of the Gilgit state before Jammu and Kashmir was divided between India and Pakistan. Abdul Khaliq Lone of Badwan village in Gurez complains of inadequate compensation offered for resettlement and rehabilitation.

Interestingly, a relief of Rs 5.57 lakh was decided by NHPC to the affected families, but rising living costs in Srinagar are proving this relief too little, as they are losing everything that nurtured their culture and unique lifestyle to this power project.

According to the latest census 27 revenue villages of Gurez with 31,900 houses are living amid the presence of 26,000 troops deployed in the area. Army occupies 2802 kanal, LoC fencing has consumed 339 kanals and now Rs 3642.04 crore Kishanganga power project is devouring a total of 4280 kanals (535 acres) of the Dard-Shin land.

The power project will badly affect the agriculture-based families, experts say. Once their land is taken over by the NHPC a majority of these people will look towards downtown as their last refuge.


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