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Guns under fire

In an era of automatic weapons two traditional gun factories in Kashmir are struggling to survive. Modernisation is not their problem. The manufacturers blame regional discrimination and government apathy for their problems. Shahnawaz Khan reports

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Srinagar, Kashmir
May 07, 2006:

Bandook khar Mohalla in Srinagar gets its name from gun smiths, Bandook means gun in local language and Khar means smith. The locality once famous for its gun smiths is unable to provide skilled labour for the only two gun factories in Srinagar today.

“This trade has no future. So people have slowly drifted away and the new generation didn’t pick up this skill,” says Ali Mohammad, a resident of the Bandukhar Mohalla.

Guns are however still manufactured in this locality at a factory founded by Mohammad Subana Ahanger in 1943. Subhana Sons, gun factory, owned by the descendants of Mohammmad Subana employs a few skilled locals, and relies mostly on exported labour to manufacture its quota of 300 gun units annually.

Sanjay Kumar Vishwakarma a gunsmith from Bihar works at the Subana gun fatory. “We come here to work for a few months and go back. There isn’t work enough for the year” Says Kumar who says he would like to spend more time here if the factories had a higher production quota.

Gun factory
Nasir Ahmad Ahanager of Subhana Sons gun factory handling a Double Barrel Bridge Loaded rifle manufatured in their factory at Bandookhar Mohalla.
What was once a gold mine for Mohammad Subhana is a humble enterprise for his grand children now. For the seven families dependant on Subhana Sons the annual licensed quota of 300 guns is enough only to make ends meet.

“If our quota is not increased we will have to look at other avenues” says Nasir Ahanger, great grand son of Mohamad Subhana.

Since 1971 the owners of Subhana Sons are urging the government to restore their original quota of 700 gun units. The quota reduced in 1958 is decided by the Ministry of Home Affairs, of the Indian government.

“We have filed many reminders for restoring our initial quota. There response is very dismal” says Bashir Ahmad Ahanger, co-owner of Subhana Sons gun factory.

Zaroo Gun Factory the only other gun factory in Kashmir is slightly better off than Subhana sons with a quota of 540 guns annually and fewer partners than Subhana sons. The grievances of the two factories are however the same.

The problems for the two started in 1989 with the outbreak of armed insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir. Governor Jagmoham slapped a ban on the units in 1990. The ban was later revoked. An unwritten ban on gun licenses to civilians means an absence of a local market. So the two have to send their shipments to other states.

“It is someone like an ex-army personnel who gets the license. We sell most of our units outside the state.” Says Nazir Ahmad Zaroo of the Zaroo Gun factory.

Zaroo thinks the ban unnecessary as guns made by them are good only for hunting game and have never been used in any incidents of insurgency. The single and double barrel bridge loaded rifles, manufactured in theses units are archaic compared to the present day automatic weapons used by the police or insurgents in Jammu and Kashmir.

More than the ban on civilian licenses the two are however worried about their limited quota which is hindering any chances of their development. And they blame Ministry of Home Affairs for regional and communal discrimination against them.

“Both Kashmir and Jammu provinces are militancy hit. But the gun manufacturers in Jammu have been favored. Their quota has been increased five to six times.” says Zaroo.

Zaroo quotes examples of gun manufactures from Jammu province to support his claim. Standard Gun works, and Bhargava Arms Company gun manufacturers form Jammu province had a quota of 300 in the nineties. The quota rose to 1800 and 2400 guns per annum for the two by 2004. For Mehar Singh gun factory and Khalsa gun works the quota rose to 4000 per annum from 720. Bumrah Gun works that had a license for just 150 guns the quota has reached to 1200. Plus civil licenses are liberally provided in Jammu while as obtaining a civil license in Kashmir is easy only for the highly affluent and influential.

During the ban on gun manufacturing units in the 1990 the gun units faced a quota lapse. While the units from Jammu were allowed to manufacture the lapsed quota, the units from Srinagar were denied the privilege.

“Due to the prevailing conditions in the early nineties a lot of our quota was lapsed in the years following the ban too. In spite of our requests we were not allowed to make it good.” Says Bashir Ahmad of Subhana Sons gun factory.

The owners of the two factories are keen to pass on the trade to their next generation but fear the government apathy will force them to look for other avenues.

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