Back in 1950, when army’s depot supply took base in Zawoora—a small postcard hamlet in Srinagar outskirts—the villagers had to vacate thousands of kanals of their land to army. The depot starts from the main road and ends at somewhere on the hills. The army least harmed the villagers because the depot was meant for supplying subsistence.
But today the situation is entirely different. The growing whisper in the hamlet goes: army is coming to occupy some thousand kanals of land here to shift the Batamaloo Tattoo ground.
To vacate certain areas of valley, army had preconditioned to provide them an alternative space. Earlier, some villagers from frontier Kupwara had expressed concern after army had reportedly visited the area to ‘eye for alternate’ land. Though the move never materialized, but it triggered fears in many parts of valley. But Zawoora, a relatively calm place, never expected it as the hamlet already has considerable army footprints.
That army has been coming there for last four months to check out the land has now derailed the calm in the hamlet. Villagers are now frequently meeting to chalk out strategy to resist the move.
The piece of land being “eyed” by army lies in Ambermalun on upper reaches of Zawoora. This area has been kept an option for an alternate army landing, the villagers say.
What freaks them out even more is the fact that most of them now own properties in Ambermalun area. Several families have shifted there to escape from the mounting congestion in Zawoora. They call it the most eco-friendly area because of its lush green meadow.
“The fear of wild animals haunts us less than the thought of army’s possible arrival,” says Sheeraz Ahmad, a local businessman, who had recently shifted to Ambermalun with his family. “I will have to limit my wife and daughter to home, if army comes here or for that matter, I have to accompany them to every place.”
Like Sheeraz’s, the family of Ali Mohammad Pandit who died few years ago is equally woebegone. The late Pandit left a property of 60 kanals to his sons. They say the army has already occupied several kanals of it and now they fear, army will take this portion as well.
“We have already lost a substantial portion of land to army,” says Mohammad Ashiq, one of the sons of late Pandit. “But now, we will resist to such victimization. I fear if they are in, the time will come when we will have to vacate the whole village for them.”
As an uneasy sense is escalating in Zawoora, many are recalling the turbulent times of nineties when the female folks had to stop visiting hills to bring hay home. “We were three: I, my aunt and a little cousin,” says a local woman, while recalling an incident of nineties. “On our way home, a strange thing happened. Army suddenly appeared in front of us. They pulled out my cousin’s belt and started beating him. We pled but they didn’t stop. As I began imagining the worst, they shouted “Baago”. I remember when I reached home, the whole village had turned up there to see and console us. From that day, no women went to Ambermalun alone. When someone mentions army, the Kunan poshpora and Tosa maidan comes to our mind. We have to stand up to resist the move.”
Land in Ambermalun is very fertile and green besides bearing fruits like apples, almonds and walnuts. The villagers are planning to consult the higher authorities to resist such shifting.
A small hamlet, Zawoora houses around some 200 families. It is located at some 15km from Srinagar. Villagers say, it is not even on the Google maps. People hardly know it. They fear the day, when it will be known for the ‘army occupation’.
“Earlier, a group of army men were posted on the main road,” says a local, “but with time, they started coming inside the village. Now they are our next-door neighbors.”