Hindustan Times (Jammu)

Valley to get rain tomorrow: MeT

- Letterschd@hindustant­imes.com

The weather was cloudy in Kashmir on Monday as the meteorolog­ical centre in Srinagar predicted light to moderate rains in coming few days. The MeT centre, in an update said that there was possibilit­y of light rain and snow at few places. “On March 12, the weather will be partly to generally cloudy while on March 13, there is possibilit­y of light to moderate rain and snow at many places with thunder/ lightning accompanie­d by gusty winds,” said the update. The MeT centre said generally dry weather was expected from March 15 to 20.

The temperatur­es were above normal across Kashmir valley during day and night.

Ashiq Hussain

Silence hangs thick in the air at Zaroo Gun Factory in Rainawari area of Srinagar’s Old City. The once bustling unit almost blends into the eerie stillness of the adjoining Malkhah graveyard. Inside the factory, machines have been eaten by rust, equipment lies in neglect and the office space is covered in dust. A lone worker sits quietly in a corner, repairing an old 12-bore shotgun. Less than a kilometre away, Subhana and Sons, the first factory to start making indigenous guns in the Valley in the 1940s after being set up in 1925, stands as mute witness to changing times at Bandookhar Mohalla.

Ironic as it may sound, militancy-hit Kashmir’s only two private gun factories stare down the barrel today. The factories that boasted of a flourishin­g business for seven decades have hit a dead-end as there are no buyers for their 12-bore shotguns, a common firearm used in hunting birds besides home defence applicatio­ns.

While arms and ammunition continued to be smuggled into the Valley from across the IndiaPakis­tan border to keep militancy running, the two factories that made weapons legally for civilian security needs and hunting are on the brink of closure since the ban on arms licences to individual­s after it came to light that 2.78 lakh licences were issued to non-entitled persons, many of who are non-locals, from 2012-16.

Biting the bullet

Burhan Ahmad Zaroo, 26, the third generation owner of Zaroo Gun Factory, says that the last gun produced at his unit was in 2014. “At that time, we had a stock of 70-80 guns which took a decade to clear. We had been going downhill for the past 15 years. The factory was virtually closed and once in a while opened if a customer came to get his old rifle repaired,” he said.

When contacted, an owner of Subhana and Sons, Javaid Ahmad, was reluctant to open up about the decrepit workshop that has only one employee today. “There is no gun production here. We produce small factory parts whenever there is an order,” said a family member, requesting anonymity.

In 2009, Burhan, an arts graduate who picked up gun production from his father, Farooq Ahmad Zaroo, 55, and uncle, Nazir Ahmad Zaroo, who died in May last year at 65, said that the decline in production over the past decade was accelerate­d by the ban on issuing arms licences to individual­s by the government in 2018.

“The issuance of licenses was unofficial­ly stopped in Kashmir since 2011 on security grounds. However, the ban was officially implemente­d in July 2018 when the Central Bureau of Investigat­ion (CBI) took over the case and the names of a few senior officers came under the scanner for issuing licences on forged documents.”

The ban was lifted in January 2023 but the issuance of licences was made strict with district magistrate­s asked to seek Aadhar card, police and CID verificati­ons from individual­s for the issuance of the arms licence.

“The licence applicatio­n process is tedious and has had no impact on improving gun sales. The district magistrate­s are reluctant to issue fresh licences,” he said.

Set up in the 1950s by Burhan’s grandfathe­r Ghulam Mohammad Zaroo, the factory boasted of 35 employees, many of them skilful gun producers, till the 1990s.

“We were given a yearly quota of 540 guns that we would produce meticulous­ly without a break. The factories dealt with producing two variants of the 12-bore shotguns – single barrel and double barrel – with long butts made of Kashmir walnut wood. While most of the buyers were security guards of banks and corporate offices, some people bought the weapon for hunting and personal security. Some even asked for custom-made guns with carved wood work,” Burhan said.

Hit by militancy

Three decades of militancy took a toll on the private gun factories in Kashmir with the government imposing restrictio­ns as insurgency peaked. The restrictio­ns were lifted by 1992 but limitation­s were imposed on the annual production. However, due to militancy in the Valley, buyers shifted to the 20 Jammubased gun production houses.

Farooq said militants used sophistica­ted weapons and were hardly interested in 12-bore rifles. “During militancy our factory was running. Till 2005, we would make 300 guns a year. Many of our clients were dealers from Jammu and Delhi who would order the weapons,” he said.

With demand drying up, Zaroo Gun Factory now has only two employees for an occasional customer looking to get his shotgun repaired.

Rendered jobless, some employees started doing welding odd-jobs to eke out a living, while others opened small shops and a few returned to their native places in Uttar Pradesh.

Hope still alive

Burhan and his father Farooq have not given up on their family tradition yet. They are hopeful of a rebound owing to the central government’s talk of industrial impetus. “(Prime Minister) Narendra Modi talks about Make in India. But I don’t understand why our local administra­tion is only obsessed with tourism? Why aren’t they promoting indigenous industries like ours?” Farooq said.

J&K industries director Khalid Majeed said that the gun factories are primarily dealt by the home department.

“In respect of J&K, they are guided by a policy taken over by the home department. Once licences are granted, we will step in for the revival of the factories and provide incentives,” he said.

 ?? ?? The two factories that boasted of a flourishin­g business for seven decades have hit a dead-end as there are no buyers for their 12-bore shotguns, particular­ly after stringent arms licence norms
The two factories that boasted of a flourishin­g business for seven decades have hit a dead-end as there are no buyers for their 12-bore shotguns, particular­ly after stringent arms licence norms
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