Sunday, March 21, 2010

Kashmir’s gun manufacturing industry battling for survival

Srinagar, Mar 21: Kashmir’s gun manufacturing industry is battling for survival.Out of several gun manufacturing factories in Kashmir only two have survived. Established in the early years of the last century, the factories would manufacture and sell their products - 12 bore Single Barrel and 12 bore Double Barrel rifles - to the foreigners, tourists and locals who had a passion for hunting birds and wild animals.Almost 100 years later, there is a ban on hunting, a stringent procedure to procure license for these guns, a government regulation which limits the number of guns manufactured from these two factories to 840 a year.A few minutes walk from a main road in downtown, past one of biggest graveyard, which is dotted with hundreds of stones epitaphs that mark the dead, is a century-old gun manufacturing factory.Outside the factory, which is housed in a residential locality, Zahoor Ahanger and Nasir Hayat spend the afternoon under the early spring sun and gossip about anything that comes their way.Ahanger, 35, and Hayat, 32, are cousins, Science graduates and gunsmiths. For the last several years these two cousins, along with four others who are the partners in this factory, are living on meagre amount of money they get from selling 300 guns that they manufacture each year.They inherited this craft of making guns from their fathers. Their great-grandfather Muhammad Subhan Ahanger had established The Subhana Sons Gun Manufacturers factory in 1925.Soon after establishing the factory, the business started to flourish as foreigners and locals would swarm to this place to buy guns for hunting birds and wild animals, says Ahanger. His claim is testified by Bashir Ahmad, 63, who has worked at the factory since he was a teenager.“That time we were having good business. A lot of people would come and buy guns,” said Ahmad, who now is a veteran gunsmith.Inside the factory office, which is a dark room with three dusty chairs and a black telephone out of service due to non-payment of bill, Hayat blames government’s apathy for the economic downfall they are facing.He says that government has permitted them to manufacture only 300 guns in a year and says the production quota has not been increased despite repeated pleas from them. “We do not demand jobs from the government. We only demand increase in the quota. They permit us to manufacture only 300 guns each year, if government increases this to a few thousand, then we can engage more and more people with this trade which will mean more livelihood,” says Hayat, who joined the family enterprise soon after he finished graduation in Environmental Science.A kilometre away from this Subhana’s is another gun manufacturing factory. Nazir Zaroo, 47, is the owner of Zaroo Gun Factory and has also inherited this craft from his ancestors. Even though he is permitted to manufacture 540 guns each year, he says the market demand is lot and supply is little.Zaroo also blames government apathy for his discontent and anger - both of which are visible when he talks.“They (government) are not helping us at all. Our record in the last 20 years is clear. We are not involved in any unlawful activity and the guns we manufacture have never been found related with any militant activity, yet, the government is not helping us grow as an industry,” says Zaroo. “We sell guns to only those who have the license issued by the government.”Records available with police acknowledge Zaroo’s claim that no gun manufactured from these factories was found with militants. “There has been no such case where we have found militants using these guns,” said Inspector General of Police, Kashmir, Farooq Ahmad.In recent years, both these factories have been selling a major chunk of their production to buyers outside the state. Growth in the number of private security firms in valley, providing armed personnel to guard banks and other places have also widened the market for the Valley’s gun manufacturers.When asked why government is not increasing the production quota of these factories, JK Industries Minister, Surjeet Singh Salathia said that his ministry has nothing to do with these factories. “They (factories) are not in my ministry. I have nothing to do with them,” he said.Meanwhile, Ahanger and Hayat have started to lose hope and if the situation continues to be like this, they say, in two or three years they might be forced to close this 85-year-old gun factory and look for other options to survive.

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