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Detour in Srinagar’s Riddled Maze
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Detour in Srinagar’s Riddled Maze

After making a sudden comeback in 2019 spring, barricades shadowed by gun-toting troopers have hampered civilian movement in Srinagar to an extent that during the peak working hours or in case of emergency, many have to either take a U-turn or a long route.

On pestering obstructions in “calm city”, SSP Srinagar Haseeb Mughal offers a curt take: “These barricades are temporary arrangement.”

But from last 16 months now, banker Suhail Bhat has been taking a detour to reach his workplace.

The growing mesh in the heart and hinterlands of Srinagar makes him reckon that his life is caught in the labyrinth of the bunkered landscape.

“These growing hassles are deeply disturbing,” the banker says. “If a top cop makes us believe that Srinagar is ‘militancy-free and peaceful’, then why are they militarizing our roads, bridges and squares?”

Movers and shakers in administration justify these curbs as “desperate measures for desperate times”. The local faces of the ruling Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) term these barriers and barricades as “strict measures taken in the national interest.”

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But commoners—many of whom wonder about these growing impediments despite downscaled dissent in City—are regularly finding themselves in the warren of drop gates, concertina wires, bunkers, flash torches and frisking.

“I don’t know how to explain this hostage feeling,” said Sehrish Qadri, a lawyer from Srinagar. “These unwarranted and uncalled for regulations literally make you feel captive.”

Administration says the call for these barricades lies with security. / Sharafat Ali for MI

What otherwise was the norm in the countryside—especially in the seething south—the roadside curbs surfaced in the city soon after the Pulwama highway bombing of February 2019.

On the heels of the rattling strike—creating an Indo-Pak war-frenzy—police posts and stations witnessed high-walling and rings of security cover.

Then in the run-up to the Article 370 abrogation when additional sorties were flown into the valley, loose pickets started appearing in the city—making many believe that war-footing measures are being put in place for “something big”.

After the abrogation of Article 370, barricades and pickets popped up in many places in the city—some surfaced on flyovers too.

“These barricades make you feel as if you’re entering through Israeli blockades in Gaza,” said Mushtaq Ahmad, a regular commuter through Munawarabad locality, where a sizeable portion of the road near Baba Dawood Khaki Bridge stands regulated by sand pickets and drop gates.

“They serve two purposes,” a police officer said. “First, it regulates the free movement of militants for whom Srinagar is a transit zone. And second, it curbs the chances of dissent—like it did in the aftermath of the abrogation of Article 370.”

But, many say, they also create a “war-zone” image of Srinagar—especially in the eyes of tourists and foreign correspondents being wooed and flown in the “peaceful” valley.

Earlier, the government had to liberate the city from bunkers and other military symbols for creating a “beautiful façade” for sightseers.



Most of those 90’s installed road security shelters and checkpoints faced the public wrath during 2008 and 2010 protests in Kashmir.

And soon many of them were removed from the restive urban pockets “for creating a sense of normalcy”.

“Now their return in the so-called ‘Naya Kashmir’ is itself a telling comment on the government’s development and peace narrative,” said Mubashir Khan, a scholar.

“Not everything can be justified in the name of security. These are tested and dusted methods which only breed alienation on the ground. The cityscape’s barrel and barricade regulation has to end for good.”

These roadblocks have created a ‘hostage’ sense in the city. / Adil Hussain for MI

One such post-abrogation street regulation point has emerged at Zindshah Masjid in Srinagar’s Rainawari area.

“It’s one of the busiest routes in the city for public transport,” said Asif Mir, a local student.

“Ironically, on the steel barricades, messages like ‘Your safety is our concern”, “Inconvenience regretted”, are being flaunted, when these blockades are forcing U-turns.”

These road restrictions are reminding some locals of a “no-go” Gupkar Road of the ’90s, and other terrible roadblocks—then apparently put in place to check and contain the free movement of militants on the streets of Srinagar.

“Today, when people are giving normalcy a chance, they’re getting these barricades in return,” said Saif Rather, a commentator.

“Life at these barricades has become a renewed sob story of Kashmir battling a multi-front offensive at the moment.”

However, these barricades, said Hanief Balki, will soon run their course.

“But the bunkers or pickets is a security call,” Balki, Srinagar’s Additional Divisional Commissioner, added. “People have to take it as it is.”

People may not be complaining much, but life under the shade and shadow of these barricades has become paranoid in the backdrop of the sudden ‘hit-and-run’ militant strikes.

“Srinagar city has become a maze of barricades today,” said Rafiq Lone, a private teacher.

“We feel under surveillance and intimidated while crossing these roadblocks after every 20 minutes. By normalizing them in the name of security serves a barking reminder of the shifted street order in Srinagar.”

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