Located on the Baramulla-Handwara highway is a glittering Auto Engineering startup which catches eyes of every passerby. “Vecmania Auto Engineering” first of its kind in Kashmir.
Tell us about Vecmania
Vecmania (Vec- vehicles, and Mania-obsession) Auto Engineering is a building brand in Kashmir for petrol heads offering custom modification of bikes and cars. Vecmania was started by three automobile enthusiasts ErfaanKirmani, Aamir Kirmani, and Omar Ayub. We offer individual solutions to individual cases as per customer’s request. Our promise is to deliver top-notch products in valley. Our valley is quite hard to do business in, we all know what is conditions we live in and during those conditions startups suffer alot, we kept that in mind, which led us to a strategy to overcome it. They say people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do it and Vecmania is one among those.
Tell us about the working of Vecmania. How do you assemble the parts?
Gone are the days when automobile were just a mode of transport. Today automobile is a lifestyle statement. It is an extension of oneself. Same as what you wear, how you look, how you talk, and an automobile you ride also tells a lot about your personality. We have dedicated national and international partners who supply most of parts, some of them are assembled from factory itself and we have to work on fitting it into module but major parts are assembled at our garage.
How did you raise your capital?
This kind of business needed a heavy Capital: Investment for showroom, investment for garage, investment for products, marketing and payment for employees. Total of 20 lakh capital had to be invested in Vecmania, so we had to approach EDI. Out of overall capital, EDI provided the half, we arranged rest of it from our savings and with help of our families.
How did your family react to your idea?
Ours is not a conservative family. From the beginning we were allowed to take our own decisions and peruse fields of our choice. Throughout the journey they have been our spine. They believed in our idea and even invested in Vecmania. AllhumdulilahVecmania is a new concept in Kashmir and Kashmiries usually take time to absorb something new.
What kind of response you usually get from people?
We had expected maximum Rs 1 lakh sales in the first month but we crossed Rs 2.5 lakh, which was more than double. We literally don’t get time to sit during the working hours as customers keep pouring in. As the customer sets foot into the showroom his face illuminates with a bright smile and that is our satisfaction. Beyond that we are getting number of orders for the kind of safety gear we have been providing. The helmet for example are designed in such a way, the biker loves to wear it all day long. That is the kind of response and it’s satisfying.(Courtesy: Gyawun.com)
I TEASED JASWANT SINGH ON THE FLIGHT TO KANDAHAR: MUSHTAQ ZARGAR
From the safety of his home in Pakistan controlled Kashmir, Mushtaq Zargar, also called as Mushtaq Latram, the head of Al-Umar Mujahideen, recalls in a phone conversation exclusively with The Kashmir Monitor how he teased the then Foreign Minister, Jaswant Singh, with whom he was traveling on a flight to Kandahar, to be a free man again.
Q. Can you tell us about your early life and why you decided to join armed struggle against India?
Mushtaq Zargar: I took arms in the year 1988, because I come from that part of Kashmir where we use to fight with stones. In 1947, India promised to conduct Plebiscite in Kashmir but that was never fulfilled. Many of our seniors fought for it, but they were never given anything. The only way to solve Kashmir issue is through armed struggle, there are no other alternatives. Dialogue is nothing but a time consuming process and it will bear no fruits. If there is any language that India understands, it is the language of gun.
Q. Where were you trained?
Zargar: I trained myself in Kashmir. What is the big deal in learning how to operate a gun? You need to have good muscle power; control on your breath and fingers on trigger. That’s the easiest way. Though, Azad Kashmir was our base camp. I taught myself how to operate gun in Kashmir.
Q. Was Al-Umar part of Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front earlier?
Zargar: We were not part of any group. But we were not taking responsibility of attacks till 1990. Whatever strikes we were doing, we were not taking responsibility. We declared Al-Umar militant group in 90s. They were my brothers, but I was separately running my organization.
Q. But according to reports you were also part of the Rubiya Sayeed kidnapping?
Zargar: I was not involved in Rubiya Sayeed kidnapping case.
Q. Do you remember the first attack you carried out in Kashmir?
Zargar: My first strike was in Zaldagar, Srinagar but I don’t remember the day. Then eventually, I carried out many other attacks.
Q. When were you arrested and where?
Zargar: I was arrested on May 15, 1992 at Saraf Kadal in Srinagar. They took me to PAPA 2 and after two months, I was shifted to Tulu Talab interrogation center Jammu and there I was kept for 50 days. Later they shifted me to Central Jail Jammu for one-and-half-months. From there, I was shifted to Jodhpur Rajasthan and I stayed there for a period of one year.
From Jodhpur, I was shifted to Tihar Jail and I spent some 7 years there. I was convicted in one case for five years. When case got over, I was again shifted to Tulu Talab interrogation center Jammu and kept there for one year. Then I was shifted to KotBalwal and from there to Srinagar central jail. Then the hijacking of Indian Airlines Flight 814 in 1999 took place, and I was released.
Q. Were you informed about the hijacking plan?
Zargar: I won’t tell you that. But when the plane was hijacked, I couldn’t sleep for a full night. After the hijacking I was thinking if something happened, they won’t keep me in any Jail in Kashmir. My heart was telling me that I will be released. The Indian government used to tell me that leave gun and joint politics. But I said, I left home and I will fight for it with a stone or a gun.
Q.Who were the people who came to you to prison and told you to join politics?
Zargar: Many used to come to talk to me. I said my friends sacrificed their lives for Kashmir cause and you want me to join politics.
Q. When you heard about the hijacking, what was your first reaction? How did you get to know?
Zargar: When the whole world got to know, I too heard it. I was in Srinagar jail that time and it was the month of Ramadan. The news came at night and names of three militants, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh and Maulana Masood Azhar and me, were announced. I couldn’t sleep that night, I don’t know why.
Q. How did you come to know that you were among the three men that the hijackers demanded to be released in order for them to free the passengers of the hijacked Indian Airlines flight?
Zargar: I was taken out from the Srinagar prison at midnight and taken to Udhampur by road. There my hands were tied behind my back and my eyes were covered under a piece of cloth. I was then put on a helicopter and when the cloth was removed I found myself in Kandahar. I couldn’t see anything. I took Rs 840, which I had accumulated in jail, from India’s then external Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh.
Q. Did you know that you were traveling with Jaswant Singh?
Zargar: I didn’t know with whom I was sitting and talking to because my eyes were covered. If I would have known, I would have teased him.
Q. Tease Jawant Singh! India’s Foreign Minister?
Zargar: I teased him (Jaswant Singh) in the helicopter but I didn’t know who he was because I couldn’t see him. In interrogation centers they used to say that you will never be released, I used to tell my interrogators that your External Affairs minister will release me by his own hand and Allah heard my pleas, and that happened.
Q. Although you didn’t know that your fellow traveler was Jaswant Singh, yet what did you tell him?
Zargar: I told him that free Kashmir will be good for you. A handful of militants were giving sleepless nights to whole India including AtalBihariVajapyee and L K Advani. Why are you forcing your army to get killed? The money you are spending on forces in Kashmir should be distributed among needy and poor Indians. And that we will continue our struggle for freedom till each and every Indian soldier doesn’t leave Kashmir.
Q. After getting down in Kandahar what happened?
Zargar: After getting down, the Taliban took us till border and I crossed the border and reached to ‘Azad Kashmir’.
Q. Who else was with you when you were released in Kandahar? Did you cross over to Pakistan?
Zargar: Maulana Masood Azhar, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh and me. No we didn’t cross over to Pakistan. Maulana Azhar told me that we are going to land on the soil of Taliban. He asked me to wear a turban but I didn’t have one and then I covered my head with some cloth. From there we boarded a vehicle, and MaulanaSahab went to some other places and I reached Muzzafarabad and from there I crossed back to Indian side of Kashmir.
Q.Were you aware of the hijacking of the Indian Airline flight in 1999?
Zargar: No, I didn’t know in advance about the hijacking but came to know from the media about it just like everybody did. But we did lot of kidnapping cases like Pankaj Kumar Senawho spent a year in our captivity. We wanted to kidnap cricketer KapilDev but that couldn’t happen. After that lot of kidnapping cases happened. That way I knew one day I will be released.
Q. Tell us about your plan to kidnap KapilDev?
Zargar:One of our colleagues was sent to Punjab to kidnap KapilDev in 1996, but he got arrested and was imprisoned for 3 years. If he (KapilDev) had been kidnapped I would have been released long before.
Q. What do you make of the current situation in Kashmir?
Zargar: Will Insha Allah, “throw Indian forces out of Kashmir”. Indian army has broken all limits in Kashmir by blinding and killing innocent Kashmiris. They have called lakhs of army men into Kashmir, but they are frightened by handful of militants. Sometimes they are shutting internet and other time closing whole Kashmir. Kashmir will be solved only through armed struggle and all talks are futile. I want to appeal to Nawaz Sharif to snap all ties with India. They are killing Muslims in India and Afghanistan, why to talk to them.
Q. In a recently circulated video, youth are seen beating CRPF personnel? What’s your reaction on it?
Zargar: They should have killed those men and cut them into pieces. But we Kashmiris are not like them, we left them unhurt. I never see such a coward army anywhere.
Q. What is your take on Hurriyat?
Zargar: They want a political solution of Kashmir and I am in favor of armed struggle. It is not necessary everyone should take gun.
Q. So you feel it is better to fire a gun than throw a stone?
Zargar: Stone pelters are real militants and courageous than those who have gun in hand. I salute them. In 1992, I was also part of stone pelting despite having a gun in hand.
Q. Zakir Musa recently said they are fighting to impose Sharia in Kashmir? What is your reaction?
Zargar: Everybody has a view and Zakir too has his own stand. I favour accession with Pakistan.
Q. You favor accession with Pakistan: Did they support you in your cause?
Zargar: Pakistan supports us politically and morally, rest we do everything by our own .We use to collect money and buy weapons from Indian and Indian forces.
Q. You used to buy weapons in India?
Zargar: Yes everywhere weapons are available. If you have money you will get each and everything. We bought weapons in Gurdaspura, Gujarat and Mumbai in India.We use to purchase one round of bullets for just Rs 10 and AK47at times at Rs 50,000 or Rs 1 lakh.
Q. Are Jaish Muhammad and Al-Umar working together?
Zargar: We all are one and fighting for the Kashmir cause. We have same color and we are all Muslims.
It is an odd habit and yet he can’t keep from turning on the television while he sits down to eat his dinner; this despite the fact that watching the television news would leave a bad taste in his mouth while he savors hi meal. Still, Aamir Rafiq, a student of journalism, like tens of thousands of people in the Kashmir valley, finds it hard to fight off the temptation of tuning in to the television news broadcast from New Delhi. They know the direction the debates usually take on these channels: vituperative, abusive anchors and a cohort of their guests making Kashmiris feel as if they were criminals guilty of crimes of which there is no comparison in the world.
On a recent evening Amir sat down to watch a debate on one of the channels and in no time the drift of the debate was clear to him. The anchor and his guests were debating the “terror funding” in Kashmir, a cue they got from a recent ‘sting’ by another ‘news’ channel on some ‘pro-freedom’ leaders. As Amir watched, his anger could be easily gauged. In the middle of an argument, one of the panelists pointed out to the “red cheeks” of Kashmiris as being one of the signs of being funded by Pakistan.
“Half of the time, Kashmir is on bandh, half of the time there is lock-down, still there is no case of malnutrition or farmer suicide, I want to ask how do they manage, every body’s cheeks there are so red,” said one Major Arya, an army man who posed as an expert panelist on Kashmir.
Hearing this, Aamir shouted in fury.“What the hell is this madman talking about, is he in his senses!” frowned Aamir as he followed up with a few more expletives. He, however, kept on watching the show giving his own reasons for it:“Why I watch it? One it is fun and two it shows you the real way Indians think about Kashmir and us”.“Shut-up debate” as Aamir called it, has most of the times anchor shutting up those who go against his viewpoint in ‘debates’ which nowadays are directly about, or in one way or another referring to Kashmir.
As a Kashmiri viewer of such debates, Aamir finds himself a party to them. He frowns with the anti-Kashmir, anti-Muslim rhetoric and equally feels the excitement when some ‘pro-Kashmiri’ panelist is successful in peeving the opposite parties.
One might not be too bothered by what goes on in the studios of the various television news channels, all you need to do is to keep away from watching it. What alarms you though is when the tone of the television debates finds resonance in the policy that New Delhi advocates for Kashmir and it becomes clear in the Kashmir valley that it was anchors and panelists of television news shows who push the government to take a particular line on Kashmir.
The intensity with which the Indian media has been chasing Kashmir, almost every issue and non-issue in it, and the way the government of India has been following up on it is worrisome. For example, the “terror fund” debate that annoyed Aamir, and almost every Kashmiri who watched it, was on recent raids carried out by National Investigation Agency (NIA). The raids were a reflex to the ‘sting operation’ carried out on a few Hurriyat members.
The ‘sting’ done by India Today, a channel more known for its masala reports than journalism, showed separatist leaders Nayeem Khan, Bitta Karate, and Gazi Baba in some undisclosed location in New Delhi talking about how they received money to “fuel the unrest” in Kashmir.Soon after the video was released, the Centre pulled up its NIA team of 25 members who went on raiding dozens of places in Kashmir, Jammu, Haryana and other locations.Aamir, like thousands of other Kashmiris saw the sting video. And like many others he too picked some basic problems with it.
“Firstly the ‘sting’ seemed shaky, like several videos shot at several times put together. Also the Hurriyat guys shown in the video wore woollen clothes suggesting it was shot in winter months; if it was so important a scoop, why was it then released months later in May?” questioned Aamir.
However, for the people in the power corridors of New Delhi, these questions seemed irrelevant. They, on the contrary, found the ‘sting’ as enough of a ‘proof’ to let loose the NIA sleuths, who raided multiple locations for several days.The known outcome of these raids, so far, has not been anything substantial even as the NIA claims to scrutinize the electronic gadgets it seized during the raids.
Weeks after the NIA raids, the hyper anchors and self-styled experts were still ‘debating’ the “funding from Pakistan”, irking Aamir and thousands of other Kashmiris like him.While the drama continued, Aamir also referred to ‘India Today’.“India Today, have you watched it? One of its female anchors can give a good competition to Arnab when it comes to shouting on screen,” Aamir joked.The one Aamir referred to is Anjana Om Kashyap designated as ‘Editor Special Projects’ with TV Today Network.Interestingly, most of her ‘special projects’ surround Kashmir.In May, during the countless follow-ups on their Hurriyat ‘sting’, Anjana seemed to have taken everything so personally that it was hard to decipher between her kitchen rant and the so-called national interest she claimed to speak for.
In another such ‘special project’ she was anchoring on primetime last month, the India Today anchor was miffed on how some ‘Islamic’ channels broadcasted in Kashmir were triggering fundamentalism and anti-India sentiment?“For years now, dozens of Pakistani channels spitting venom against India are being watched in Kashmir, no one has questioned their broadcast, could their anti-India and fundamentalist stand be the cause of the terrorism that Kashmir is struggling with….? That is the question we ask in this hour…,” her last few words powered by all the wry facial expressions she must have ever learnt.
The question of ‘Pakistani channels’ was actually raised by a story done a few days earlier by a major Indian newspaper, thereby tipping off the news channels.‘Pakistani, Saudi channels beam into Kashmiri homes, stoke azadi rage’: This story done by ‘Times of India’ on May 05, postulated that whatever wrong was happening in Kashmir was due to the airing of channels which promoted “anti-India”, “fundamentalist” and “Salafist” thoughts in the region.
The journalist Aarti Tikoo Singh claimed in the story that there were “over 50 Saudi and Pakistani channels, including Zakir Naik’s banned PEACE TV preaching Salafist Islam, and others indulging in anti-India propaganda were running without necessary clearances via private cable networks in Kashmir”.
To substantiate the claim, Tikoo quoted some Shahid (did not give out his full name), an ‘Islamic scholar’ from Anantnag saying: “It (airing of salafist channels) is radicalising youth and adding fuel to the violent separatist movement that is being mobilised by invoking Islam. Wahhabism has stoked Islamist extremism and terrorism across the world.”
Even as an ardent watcher of such shows, Aamir told The Kashmir Monitor how ridiculous the claim sounded to him when he read the story and saw the debate.“It seems they don’t want us to live in peace. Why else would they try to make issues out of nothing?” he said while referring to the channel debate he had watched last month.“I don’t think half of Kashmiris have even heard the names of some of these channels. Besides, a few of them only telecast music and sports, how on earth would they ‘radicalise’ me,” his frustration clearly showed as he spoke.
If it would have been referring to any other place, the Times of India ‘channel story’ would have had barely a few days of shelf life, as happens with most such stories written for dailies. However, not when it mentioned Kashmir and also claimed to find the ‘real reason’ of the problem, a reason that conformed to those in power.And like Aamir, most Kashmiris already knew that.Not waiting for the second day, the same evening the story was published, the government of India reacted. All pumped up ToI did the follow up the next day: ‘Rein in J&K cable firms illegally beaming Saudi, Pakistani news channels, says government’.
The Union Information and Broadcasting Ministry in an official order directed the J&K Chief Secretary B.B Vyas to take action against the cable operators and even “confiscate the equipment”.A day later, the J&K government asked the all deputy commissioners of the state to take action against transmission of 34 TV channels, including those from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, saying they have the “potential to incite violence and create law and order situation”.
No questions, no ground analysis to double check whether or not what was claimed had any semblance of truth. A few of the 34 channels, which formed a part of the banned list, as Aamir rightly pointed out, included some sports as well as music channels, leaving a lot scratching their heads.
Banning the channels is another recent example of the government of India’s knee-jerk reaction to its media reports on Kashmir. Unusual even for the political conflict it is, the vehement desk-reportage, questioning almost everything happening in the valley, shows how the Indian media has startedreporting their own whims and assumptions.Yet another example of media triggered decisions on Kashmir is the hyped up security measures for the forthcoming Amarnath Yatra.However, Aamir had not realised it yet.
“They are not debating it that much, so I guess that is way I missed it,” he replied when told how, for months now, a series of print stories by national media outlets quoting anonymous ‘security officials’ claimed that “stone pelters and militants were the biggest threat to the pilgrimage which is to start from June 29.“I think they will rake-up the issue on these channels when the Yatra is about to start for the government of India to react.”Aamir, however, did not know that they had already reacted.The repeated reportage had led the Union home Ministry hold an emergency meet on May 23, acknowledging the ‘threat’. They decided to deploy 27,000 troopers along the Yatra route.
“There are equal threats from militants and stone-throwers. All threats are being taken care of,” Adviser in the Ministry Ashok Prasad then said.Reacting to the hyperbole, the State Police Chief SP Vaid too held a high level meeting last week with police and other paramilitary forces discussing the security arrangements for the upcoming Yatra.“Fool proof security arrangements should be put in place for the routes and the base camps to ensure safety of the pilgrims. The deployment and security of the vulnerable areas should be strengthened to thwart any mischief by the anti-national elements and the militants. Enhanced Paramilitary deployment should be made,” DGP Vaid directed the officers.
The perception of fear was generated even as the past remains testimony of how the Yatra was never affected due to the Kashmir situation. In fact, militants in many of their videos have vouched for the safety of the pilgrims making one wonder wherefrom was the ‘threat’ perceived by the Indian media.As if this was not enough, the Indian media now seems to have set its eyes on banning the internet in the valley, or at least in south of Kashmir during the 40-day Yatra period. Why else would a leading news agency of India come up with a story like this: “‘Bedroom Jihadis’: New problem for Kashmir’s security agencies.”
The story dated June 02 was carried by most news portals and ranted about on news channels.
An excerpt from the story tells how it overtly wants to gag whatever remaining communication is available to the people of Kashmir.“After years of fighting armed terrorists with bullets and brickbats, security agencies in Jammu and Kashmir are now facing a new enemy – ‘bedroom jihadis’ who manipulate social media from the comfort of their homes to spread rumours and influence youths. An immediate worry for security agencies is the Amarnath Yatra that starts June 29. Armed with access to platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter, there are fears that the new band of jihadis could instigate communal riots in the Valley ahead of the 40-day pilgrimage to the high altitude shrine dedicated to Lord Shiva.”
The story, like most such stories, quotes anonymous police official to substantiate its claim. It would not be surprising if government of India, in the backdrop of this story, comes with another order of banning internet during the Yatra period in the entire valley or in the districts through which the yatris pass through.
Media experts, working journalists in Kashmir, and even young men like Aamir, see the negative impact of the Indian media’s handling of Kashmir.Experts, however, say that the trend of media-triggered decisions on Kashmir is nothing new and has been used as a “favourite tool” by those in power.
“Indian media has always done that. In Kashmir, partial reportage favouring the Indian state and opposing the realities has been the rule for the Indian media; a balanced, objectivity reportage has been a rare exception,” says Danish Zargar, a working journalist who has earned his doctorate specifically in national media’s reportage on Kashmir in 1990s.“They have done it all through ’90s and afterwards, and the practice continues. Only that their biased, or even misleading, reporting is now becoming more common and an accepted form of journalism in India. I believe if Indian media played its role more professionally vis-a-vis Kashmir, the realities may have been different. Because, they have ensured that the people of India see Kashmir as nothing more than a proxy war and Kashmiris as enemies,” he says.
A senior journalist who once worked as a correspondent for a leading national news channel recalls how his attempts to report the real on-ground facts and situation were met with disappointment after his Delhi Bureau misrepresented the truth.“It was 2009, we were reporting the Shopian rape and murder case. I faced severe opposition from the Delhi bureau when I tried to report the villager’s claims of Indian forces raping and murdering the two young women from Shopian. My editor was miffed on my reportage and kept on pressuring me to rather report that the women drowned (the state version) in a stream with hardly a feet of water,” the senior journalist, who eventually left the channel, told The Kashmir Monitor.
The People’s Democratic Party, the regional ally of BJP, even being a party to many of the decisions triggered by the media reportage, too believes that the national media is adversely affecting the current Kashmir situation.Recently, State Minister of Education Altaf Bukhari was vocal about how a few national broadcast channels were hell-bent on “putting Kashmir on fire”. He was reacting to claims made by ‘Republic TV’ that NIA raided Mushtaq Chaya, a known hotelier of Kashmir whereas the reality was that no such raids were made.
“Please allow us to live peacefully. We want peace here. But some news channels want to put Kashmir on fire. They are not showing true picture about the valley,” he said.Similarly in an interview with Indian Express, J&K Minister for Roads and Buildings, Naeem Akhtar said that his party was convinced that television channels in Delhi and Mumbai were doing “irreparable harm to us than anything else currently”.
Naeem claimed that the state government was considering “serious action” against these channels. “Because it is these television channels and their studio warriors who have become a serious threat to peace and normality in Kashmir,” he added.
To point out, the current media war in Kashmir is waged at a time when the region is experiencing its second straight year of public dissent. Akin to last year, the series of civilian killings, injuries have continued for the first half of this year too. The situation has been made worse by blocking communication channels multiple times in the last six months. Besides, a wave of student protests has also been a feature of the public protests showing how volatile the situation is in the valley.In all of this, the Indian media’s biased reportage has been one of the prime reasons of keeping the pot boiling making Aamir and most other Kashmiris wonder where would the drama head in near future.
Two years before when she stopped coming to the shrine, she had thought the time would be enough for the authorities to construct the holy structure, but to her acute dismay the construction work at the shrine of Dastageer sahib at Khanyar is far from over. So on a recent day Khaeti Begum, dejected, left the shrine without greeting the management whom she knew for decades from her frequent visits to the shrine.
Khaeti (78), a resident of Budgam, was known as a passionate devotee since 1970s, who would spend days together praying at the shrine. She would often visit the homes of people living in the shrine neighbourhood to offer them dried vegetable which she had brought from her home.
But after the 2012 blaze when the entire shrine was gutted, it took her weeks together to come out of the shock. She initially visited the shrine once a month. But the sluggish renovation work left her perturbed and she decided to visit the shrine once the work had been completed. After her health started weakening in 2014, she couldn’t visit the shrine for nearly two years.
“She is here today after two years and still our heart couldn’t feel that peace. During the days of Urs, she would spend hours together here and recite some verses praising my peer Dastageer. But now when we see everything new here that too haphazardly, it disturbs us mentally,” Khaeti younger son Shabir, who was accompanying her to the shrine.
Like her, the flow of devotees to the shrine has declined immensely as the government couldn’t complete the entire project of shrine construction in the last five years. Thousands of devotees throng the shrine especially on Thursday and Friday but majority of them leave disappointed due to the “undue” delay in its completion.
“Earlier some 3000-4000 devotees would visit the shrine on average daily. But now only 1000-1500 devotees visit here. The shrine is going through renovation like interiors from past one year and still it is not completed,” said Naeem Ahmad a local resident who is a member of the management. The 250-year-old wooden landmark dedicated to the 11th-century Sufi saint Sheikh Abdul Qadir Geelani (RA) was gutted in a mysterious fire on June 26, 2012.
To douse the public anger, the government announced to complete the construction of shrine on the pattern of previous architecture in least possible time. The cost of rebuilding the shrine was Rs 16 crore and was executed by Jammu and Kashmir Projects Construction Corporation (JKPCCC).
The work on the shrine had to be halted due to the paucity of funds. The work on shrine was stopped almost for a year, which evoked sharp resentment from the people.
So far the state government has set multiple deadlines including the recent January 2017 but the executing agencies are yet to start work on some other parts of the project. The main compartment of the shrine has been built, including a portion of Khatamband .
“The Hujra is incomplete even, which is annoying every devotee visiting here,” Naeem said.
At the entrance of the shrine, two temporary doors made of plywood have been installed by the authorities.
Similarly, the mosque inside the shrine is yet to be completed that is without doors and proper electricity arrangement. “We are made to offer prayers here which lacks proper flooring and no proper arrangement of electricity. This compartment can accommodate some 40 devotees only,” said Abdul Majid a local resident.
Coming to the second storey of the Shrine, it construction is in initial stage with no electricity arrangement and artwork on wooden walls. The entire storey is filled with dust and wooden blocks are seen scattered on each compartment and corridor. All the construction material including wooden blocks are lying in a haphazard manner.
“During annual Urs, the shrine cannot accommodate the devotees. Wakf board and state government needs to complete the entire project as immediately as possible,” said Gulzar Ahmad a devotee. “How much more time they (Wakf) require now. This entire process has depicted the work culture of our state government,” Ahmad said. Moreover, the authorities have not begun any work on the construction of the building adjacent to the shrine to accommodate the female devotees.
The locals said that the areas have been demarcated years before and the residents were also compensated.
The Managing Director of JKPCC, Dileep Thusoo, hinted that the construction of the second phase is likely to take some time as the government had not released the required funds yet.
“We prepared a Detailed Project Report (DPR) and sent it to the civil secretariat. The construction work of second phase will begin after funds are released by the government,” he said.
Vice Chairman of the Jammu and Kashmir Wakf Board, Peer Muhammad Hussain, said that JKPCC was looking after the interiors of the shrine. He said that that Wakf would hold a review meet with JKPCC members to discuss future strategy to ensure its speedy completion.
“It is being looked after by the JKPCC and we are after them to ensure speedy completion of the entire project. Besides the construction of another building near to the shrine will also take off very soon,” Hussain said. The foundation of the Shrine of Syed Abdul Qadir Jeelani (RA) was laid during the reign of Noor Khan Bamzai, an Afghan governor of Kashmir in 1767 AD. The shrine was then constructed by Syed Ghulam-u-din Azad whose grandfather, Shah Sakhi Muhammad Fazil, had come to Kashmir from Sindh during the Mugal reign of Aurangzeb.
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