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Beautifying the bunkers

The 'ugly' security bunkers of Indian armed forces dotting every nook and corner of Indian administered Kashmir are being 'beautified'. The government says the facelift is aimed at making the bunkers appear people friendly (and presentable to tourists). Separatists prefer to describe the act as camouflage. Gowhar Nazir Shah reports.

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Srinagar, Kashmir
Apr 16, 2006:

Security bunkers made up of piled up sand bags became a common sight in Indian administered Kashmir after the outbreak of armed rebellion in 1989. Making the region look like a battlefield these bunkers created an aura of fear.

At many places the sand bunkers later gave way to concrete ones constructed in brick and mortar– a signal that the troops were here to stay.

Encroaching the busy roads with a barbed wire fencing around them, these bunkers are bottlenecks for the traffic besides creating an ugly landscape.

Admitting their ugly appearance the bunkers are now being remodeled by the state police to make them "presentable" to visiting tourists in Srinagar. In a phased manner the old structures will be replaced by new ones, with a beautiful wooden-hut like exteriors and concrete structures or sand bags on the inner side for security. In the first phase, the bunkers lying in the area from Airport Road to Shalimar will be modernized.

The construction of each unit would cost the state exchequer over 20000 INR taking the first phase investment to nearly rupees 300,000 INR.

Some political commentators and the hard-line separatists fighting Indian rule in Kashmir see a "conspiracy" behind the move. Separatists say it is being done to "camouflage the prevailing situation in restive Kashmir ".

Director General of Tourism department, M Saleem Beg also believes the place would be better off without bunkers.

"There should be no bunkers, the question of ugly or beautiful does not arise," Beg says.

The government calls the drive "beautification of bunkers" to attract more tourists and the Police believes the volatile situation in Kashmir is returning towards normalcy but say "bunkers can't be removed".

Inspector General of Police (Kashmir Zone) K Rajendra Kumar told Kashmir Newz that the construction wing of J&K Police is constructing new bunkers to make them "visually people friendly".

"We don't want to make tourists think of Kashmir as a battlefield," Rajendra says. The new bunkers are not only good looking but very safe as well, he adds.

old and new
Old and New: An old sand bag bunker and a new concrete bunker coming up.
Calling the "beautification of bunkers" as a move equivalent to that of "rubbing salt into the wounds of Kashmiri people", the separatist leader of right wing women's separatist outfit Dukhtaran-e-Millat (daughters of faith) Asiya Andrabi says, " India wants to make tourists believe that all is well in Kashmir, which is not true. The step of constructing new bunkers is aimed at making the roots of illegal Indian occupation more strong in Kashmir."

Quite in tune with Dukhtaran-e-Millat are the views of Muslim League, another hard-line separatist organization operating in the region.

"We believe Indian government is doing this to misinform outsiders about the real situation in Kashmir. The Indian forces have unleashed a reign of terror in every nook and corner of the Valley and for us this move is a proof of India 's imperialistic attitude towards oppressed Kashmiris," a senior Muslim League leader Mian Manzoor Ahmad says.

After observing that the old bunkers were creating bottlenecks in smooth flow of traffic and occupying undesired space, the government's decision to give bunkers a facelift came into force.

A new type bunker with a wooden exterior coming up in Sriangar. Each such unit will cost the state 20000 INR.
"The idea is to make the bunkers appear less ugly to tourists and the wooden design from outside is innovative," The Deputy Commissioner Srinagar Asgar Samoon says.

In the eyes of many a political experts and commentators, the new look of bunkers does not make situation in Kashmir any better for people.

"The new look of bunkers may have a soothing effect for tourists and visitors but for the people living here the situation remains the same. This step taken by the government is nothing but an attempt to camouflage the real situation." says Dr. Sheikh Showkat Hussain, an expert in international law and a teacher at law department at the University of Kashmir.

Encroaching the busy roads with a barbed wire fencing around them, these bunkers make the region look like a battlefield.
Asim Khursheed, a student at University of Kashmir has a different view about the new bunkers. "This step of government is a slap on the face of those moderate separatist leaders who are parroting that India has exhibited flexibility in its stance vis-à-vis Kashmir dispute and its resolution."

Although the government has been saying that the situation in Kashmir is coming back on rails but the Police officials maintain they can't afford to take any risks either.

Deputy Inspector General of Police (Kashmir Range) Farooq Ahmad told Kashmir Newz "Well, the fact remains we can't remove the bunkers as we don't want to take any security risk but at the same time we want to make the bunkers presentable and beautiful, hence the beautification drive."

For many people the beautification drive makes no difference. "We will still have to face humiliation at the hands of the troopers. They will stop us for questioning especially in late hours," says Shabir Ahmad Dar, a businessman in Srinagar. "Beautification of bunkers won't make the troopers any sober. They will still be rude to people. They will still be trigger happy," he adds.

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