An Army Bunker Set To Become Part Of History

An Army Bunker Set To Become Part Of History

20 April 2012
Tehelka
Riyaz Wani

Srinagar: FOR 23 years, it stood as the virtual symbol of the Kashmir conflict, occupying a prominent plaza in the city centre Lal Chowk. But the crpf bunker which stood in front of a gutted movie theatre is being torn down, with first sandbags being removed on Friday, to symbolically begin a process that will take a few days to complete. The bunker has been witness to the worst in Kashmir in the past two decades, being the scene of uncounted grenade assaults and many fidayeen missions, besides the large seething separatist protests. The bunker which was partly housed in a cinema with sandbags spreading out into open space, occupied arguably Kashmir’s most precious piece of real estate. The place has a hoary historical value too. It was here that the late prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru addressed a large gathering in 1948 along with Sheikh Abdullah and declared his intention to hold a plebiscite in the state to let Kashmiris decide their own destiny. The speech now forms the bedrock of separatist narrative on Kashmir. Before the onset of militancy in 1989, Lal Chowk used to be the scene of many a tumultous political gathering, with Nehru speech being the invariable reference point. “We feel relieved that the bunker is finally being removed. It was our long-term demand,” said Muhammad Ashraf, a seller of ready-made garments in the neighbourhood. “The presence of the bunker conveyed a troubled image of Kashmir and scared away tourists.” While the removal of the Lal Chowk bunker, coinciding with the spring season, is meant to herald peace in Valley - more so, with tourism season at hand - the killing of a police officer in downtown Srinagar spoilt the mood. Assistant sub-inspector Suchpal Singh was shot from close range by unidentified gunmen near the Bagyaz police station where he was posted. “Singh was fired upon by militants from close range near Darish Kada, leaving him in a pool of blood. The injured asi was immediately rushed to Shri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital Srinagar, where he succumbed to his injuries,” said a police statement. No separatist group has yet owned responsibility for the attack. In recent past, government has removed many bunkers from the downtown city in keeping with the redeeming change in the situation. The government is planning to remove 24 more bunkers from various parts of Srinagar. However, the process of reducing the number of security pickets in Kashmir was started in late 2010, following recommendations of the three-member panel of interlocutors comprising Dilip Padgaonkar, Radha Kumar and MM Ansari. The records available with the establishment maintain that there are around 1,600 bunkers of army, police and paramilitary across the Valley established during the last two decades to fight militancy.