by Saif Ullah Bashir
Mohammad Ismail, 70, waits all day for customers at his small general store, but not many people come to his way. He is amongst 300 shopkeepers on the ancient Habba Kadal Bridge who are without any business after the parliament unilaterally abrogated the special status of Jammu and Kashmir State and divided it into two union territories.
This old bridge in Habba Kadal is an epitome of history in itself, which connects old city areas of Chinkaral Mohalla, Fateh-Kadal and Babademb areas. This bridge, as per the government forces, has become an epi-centre of clashes after the 2008 unrest.
In order to control the mass scale protests after the revocation of special status in August 2019, this bridge was closed for the public movement. The forces had laid down concertina wires to block any movement which directly affected the livelihood of the business units located around this 50 feet bridge.
“As the Srinagar, business is limping back to track but all the day we keep our eyes glued to the deserted road and wait for the customers,” said Ismail.
In order to restore their businesses and remove the razor wires from the ancient bridge, a joint delegation of the shopkeepers visited the Divisional Commissioner Kashmir, who as per the shopkeepers assured them the concertina wires will be removed. “But nothing happened. We then met the concerned station officer too who asked us to give in writing that there will be no stone-pelting in the area. How can we write it for the youth whom we don’t know,” said Ghulam Ahmad Shalla, a tailor, who has been injured in his left eye. He alleges a CRPF personnel aimed directly at his eye with a marble ball.
Shalla has so far undergone three surgeries which cost him more than Rs one lakh. “Can you imagine a tailor working with only one eye? Nobody can understand the pain I am going through. Losing an eye means losing my livelihood and the only source of income for my four-member family,” Shalla said. His eldest son, a student of 2nd year, has started doing menial jobs to run their kitchen. His another son is a 1st-year student but is having a cardiac ailment.
After the resumption of business units in the Habba Kadal area, this bridge has become a parking area, which otherwise was a hub market for the dried vegetables, spices, coals and clothes.
But the local residents in the area said, “We are demanding the CRPF camp should be removed from the area, which is responsible for the law and order situation in the area. We have held a number of protests earlier for the removal of this camp.
Sho Kralkhud Police station said that this bridge has become a hub of “miscreants, stone pelters and drug peddlers”.
He said that it is up to the higher authorities to restore the movement on the bridge.