“Are you refugees. Where have you come from? You look like illegal immigrants.”
Locals of the Fisher Mohalla, Abi Nowpora, in the interiors Dal Lake blame VC Lakes and Waterways Development Authority (LAWDA) for allegedly taunting them during his last visit to the families affected by the devastating fire on April 5th, which claimed more than 25 structures.
Over a month has passed, but the affected families are still living in tents in this harsh weather.
Mohammad Jabbar, 50, a fisherman by profession was severely injured in the fire. “I would usually make 200-300 rupees a day and mange all my family expenses. Now I am on the ruins of my home, which I had built with hard work and sweat. I don’t even have enough money to go for a proper operation. We are devastated,” says Mohammad.
Most of those effected claim the their property is registered with the government, yet they are not being allowed to rebuild.
As per reports an electric failure caused the fire.
“The government is not allowing us to rebuild, neither have they given us any replacement or compensation. The property papers were burnt along with our houses. They (government) have all the records, and yet they remain unmoved.” says fisherman Ashraf who was also impacted by the fire.
Kids of the affected families have mostly been out of school, helping their families to recover from the tragedy. The fishermen claim they lost everything and cannot cater to the needs of their kins’ education now.
“I have two sons and two daughters. Their school bags were burnt along with our property. They don’t go to school anymore. We have no means to catch fish now, all the nets, harpoons, sticks which we used to catch fish have turned into ashes. I have small children. My husband is also a patient and he doesn’t work, So how am I supposed to send my kids to school? says Shazada, a fisherwoman.
Most of the affected families can be seen cooking in their small boats tied to a walking bridge. Earlier used for fishing, the boats have now have become open kitchens. Many incidents of people falling in the water have been reported, as the bases of the wooden huts have become weak after the fire.
“I fell into the water while sleeping a few days ago and the same happened with many kids. The tents we have cannot help us to live anymore. It’s dangerous and we need a permanent place,” say’s Maala, 70, a fisherwoman.
Successive governments have made the lake and its dwellers a vote minting machine, with politics being played over the illegal encroachment, the locals believe.
“The government treats us well only when they have to seek votes to form governments, and now when we need help no one is around,” said a local who did not want to be named.
While speaking to Free Press Kashmir on phone, Ali Mohammad Sagar, General Secretary of the National Conference, the party in opposition, said, “We have recommended the state government that the effected should be rehabilitated soon. We have initiated efforts personally as well, and we are pressurizing the government to take action. These people are extremely poor and hardly make a proper living from fishing. They need immediate assistance.”
Attempts made to reach out to the local authorities went in vain with no one answering the phone calls.
Photos and text by Baba Tamim.
This feature was shot on an iPhone.
Baba Tamim is an internationally published independent photojournalist based in Kashmir and Qatar. He specialises in covering conflict, human rights and environmental issues. His work has been published in Al Jazeera, Dawn and Tehelka.
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