Srinagar gunfight houses
The local residents have cleaned the debris near the gunfight site in Nawakadal, Srinagar, and begin reconstruction of the damaged houses. Photograph by Rayan Naqash for The Kashmir Walla

Srinagar: Nearly two weeks after their homes were destroyed in a gunfight between government forces and militants in downtown Srinagar’s Nawakadal area, residents of the Kanimazar neighbourhood have taken charge of the rehabilitation of the families rendered homeless in the midst of the pandemic.

More than a dozen houses were damaged or rendered inhabitable in the ten hour long gunfight while three civilians, including a 12-year-old boy, lost their lives in its aftermath. The rubble has still not been cleared from the densely packed neighbourhood but reconstruction of destroyed homes has begun, supported by the donations collected by the management committee of the local masjid.

On the morning of 1 June, Abdul Rahman Dar, the president of the management committee, the Kashmiri equivalent of a Residents Welfare Association, sat on a shopfront in the neighbourhood as he turned down offers for further donations to help the rebuilding process.

The scenes in the neighbourhood still resemble the images of destruction from wars, the rubble of bricks flowing from charred and hollowed out structures. In the periphery of the small neighbourhood, the debris has been removed to place construction material. “19 houses and a shed were destroyed,” said Mr. Dar. “We have started construction on some of them from today.”

Mr. Dar said that the management committee had hired an engineer to assess the damages caused by government forces in the neighbourhood and that they had met their target amount for donations to begin rebuilding the houses. “We estimate a loss of about Rupees 3 crores,” said Mr. Dar. “That is just the houses. The actual cost is significantly more considering everything inside these homes were also reduced to ashes.”

Shortly after the gunfight had ended on 19 May, appeals were made on social networking sites to financially assist the affected residents to rebuild their homes. A written appeal from the masjid committee detailing the committee’s bank account number was also widely shared and donations poured in for the victims.

ALSO READ: “How does it feel when your home is burnt?”: No house left to call home

The previous day, Mr. Dar and others from the masjid committee had recorded a video thanking the donors – local residents, Kashmiris from other parts of the Valley, and even outsiders – who “wholeheartedly” helped the affected residents. “The amount that was needed [for reconstruction] has almost been received,” Mr. Dar is heard saying in the video. “We no longer need the government or donations.”

The affected families, Mr. Dar said, had received meagre amounts of Rupees 5000, or USD 66, per family pointing out the disparity with the earlier quoted figure of collective damages of approximately USD 400,000 to the residential structures alone. About 21 families were made homeless, of which Mr. Dar has kept a list. “We have not heard about any compensation from the government,” said Mr. Dar.

The destruction of civilian homes during the gunfight had caused a massive uproar as the Director General of Police, Dilbag Singh, had simultaneously hailed the government forces for conducting what he described as a “clean operation”.

However, shortly after the uproar, unnamed government officials had told a local newswire Kashmir News Observer that the Srinagar district administration would compensate the affected families. An unnamed government source identified as a “top official in the district administration” told KNO that “the families not involved [in sheltering militants] are being helped by district administration”; the administration, however, required “non-involvement certificate” regarding the same.

Despite repeated attempts, The Kashmir Walla could not reach the Srinagar District Magistrate, Shahid Choudhary, or other district officials for clarification regarding whether the administration was working on a rehabilitation plan for the victims of the gunfight. Local residents had also alleged loot of gold besides destruction of valuables by the government forces before the gunfight.

ALSO READ: The Kashmir Walla editor’s statement after he was summoned by police over the coverage of the gunfight

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