One of the most exotic spots in Srinagar, Mir Bahri locality whose history dates back to the time of Mughals in Kashmir is battling with a number of issues. As Bilal Handoo finds out, the inhabitants are struggling to live a decent life.
It takes a few steps from the marginalized part of Srinagar’s Rainawari area to walk into a habitat cut-off from the adjacent localities. Surrounded by trees, the place presents a view of harmony and solace. As one explores the area, recurrent wooden bridges over the stagnant Dal Lake fills senses with delight; a perfect scene for nature lovers. The place is called Mir-Bahri, an island within the famed Dal Lake.
This placid area instantly shot to prominence last year when Junta Bridge which was constructed in seventies by Janta Party government in Jammu and Kashmir to link two parts of Mir Bahri separated by a channel of water, collapsed. Public tempers soared in the locality when two kids from the same family drowned in Dal Lake and lost their lives as bad roads prevented them from arriving at the hospital in time due to bad roads.
”When they were being taken to hospital, bad roads turned out to be an impediment in their rescue operation,” Mushtaq Ahmad, a neighbour of deceased kids, told Kashmir Life.
The loss of innocent kids snowballed into major protests in the area and officials were dispatched to hear the grievances of the locals. As the officials took the 40-year-old Junta Bridge to reach the area, the structure collapsed, sending the officials into the waters of Dal Lake.
As the tragedy started taking form of a dark humor, the collapse of Junta Bridge put Mir Bahri on national media radar, perhaps for the first time. But the people in the locality were hardly impressed. People filled with resentment are reluctant to talk about their affairs, indicating a sense of isolation within them. They consider themselves a ‘lost tribe’ of Srinagar due to the apparent negligence on part of officials by the government in offering them basic living amenities. “A locality of 40,000 households has been reduced to a mere vote-bank,” Mohammed Ashraf, a local, says.
Soon after the incident, a road was carved out but it was never blacktopped, The first road in Mir Bahri was laid down during Mughal rule in Kashmir. Locals say the road existed much before the plush Boulevard road around Dal Lake.
“The road was constructed by Mughal Emperor Akbar during his reign in Kashmir; a proof of this was the engraved marble stones on one of the walls here. Unfortunately the marble was removed,” Shabir Magbool, 45, a local said. The road was lying in shambles till few months back, except a stretch near the PHE water plant at Nishat where it was blacktopped. Locals say foreign tourists used to walk around the place earlier and spend time in Mir Bahri. “But the potholed road is taking a toll on us. Hardly any tourist turns around now,” Maqbool added.
Locals say they only possess three facilities in the name of citizenship; electricity, ration card and water which were provided to them by the late Prime Minister of J&K, Ghulam Mohammad Bakhshi during 1950’s. There is a government hospital where decades-old equipment lies unused; there are six government-run schools in the area but locals say successive regimes have turned their back on them including the present government for which this area has been a traditional vote-bank.
Houses in Mir-Bahri are shabby and archaic. Most of them have developed big cracks over the period of time. Existing norms by Lakes and Water developing Authority (LAWDA) prohibit renovation of existing structures; fresh constructions are not allowed. “I happened to renovate a wall of my house in recent past, hardly knowing that I would be slapped with First Information Report (FIR) by authorities,” a man who doesn’t want to be named said. “If influential people can exploit green belt for raising their castles, then why can’t we even repair our frail homes,” charged a visibly upset, Showkat Hussain, a local.
In Mir Bahri, Shia Muslims are in a majority. Most of them own vegetable gardens. A single household has five to ten kanals of vegetable land on an average. “We supply about 25 percent of total vegetables consumed in the city,” said a local landowner Inayat Hassan. He added that vegetables of Mir Bahri are most sought after in the city due to its organic nature. “One kanal of land requires manure in the form of aquatic fern that is spread on about 25 kanal of lake. That way, we contribute to cleanliness drive of lake as well.” —