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Despite poverty, Muslims feel safe in Kashmir's slums

Half a million people live in slums that lack basic facilities

Umar Manzoor Shah, Srinagar

Umar Manzoor Shah, Srinagar

Updated: May 11, 2016 08:09 AM GMT
Despite poverty, Muslims feel safe in Kashmir's slums

Sisters Nazaran and Nazima Hussain pictured in their slum which is situated on the outskirts of Srinagar, Kashmir's largest city. (Photo by Umar Manzoor Shah)

Holding a brush between her fingers, 12-year-old Nazrana paints red and green colors on the flutes made by her father, Mohammad Hussain.

It's early morning and Nazrana is with her father in their makeshift tent making flutes that they sell on the streets of Srinagar, Kashmir's largest city.

The pair have lived in a slum situated on the outskirts of the city off the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad highway since they migrated from Uttar Pradesh five years ago.

While Muslim-dominated Kashmir may be described as strife-torn because of an armed secessionist movement, it is also considered a safe place for hundreds of Muslims who have fled from other parts of India.

Despite living in a slum, Hussain says he feels the area is safe for his two daughters and wife Moomina because the area is Muslim-dominated.

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"It is also a good place to earn a livelihood and the weather too isn't that hot," Hussain says.

Like Hussain, thousands of Muslims from other parts of India — mostly from Bihar, Maharashtra, Bengal and Uttar Pradesh — live in makeshift shelters across Kashmir valley. Most of them find work as street vendors, laborers or toy sellers.

Some like 64-year-old Mohammad Idrees and his family came to Kashmir because of sectarian violence. He and his family fled Uttar Pradesh after Hindu-Muslim riots broke out in December 1992 when Hindu hard-liners destroyed the disputed Babri Mosque. The Hindus claimed the mosque was built on land considered the birthplace of their god Ram.

"The threat of violence loomed large around everyone and we ran from our hometown. We spent some years in Delhi's slums before making my mind to settle in Kashmir," says Idrees.

Like thousands of slum dwellers in Srinagar, Idrees, pays 100 rupees per month to their respective landowners who allow them to build huts made from cardboard and other leftover materials.


Mohammad Idrees in his makeshift shelter in Srinagar. (Photo by Umar Manzoor Shah)


Half a million people

Kashmir's slums are usually located along highways where they typically stand out in stark contrast to the sea-grey Kashmir Mountains that feature in the background.

Official data from 2011 stated that Kashmir's slum population was 494,180. It was projected to increase to 553,771 in 2017. Srinagar's slum population is more than 200,000.

A Kashmir University study says the state's slums lack the basic sanitation facilities such as drinking water services and bathrooms. 

Another official study found that the women and children in slums don't have access to proper health care and were more prone to suffer from deadly diseases.

"There are no health care facilities for children," says Mohammad Aamir from Kashmir University, who researches the social and economic conditions of Kashmir's slum dwellers.

"There are no medical services run by the government in slums at all in fact," he explains.

"During pregnancy, women are usually malnourished and the children born to them susceptible to various diseases," he said.


Mazhar Huassin, 9, lives in a slum in Kashmir but aspires to attend school and one day become a teacher. (Photo by Umar Manzoor Shah)


Caritas prepares to help

Caritas India, which opened an office in Kashmir last year, says the lack of educational and health facilities for children in slums "was a deep concern" of the organization.

Altaf Lone, a social worker with Caritas in Kashmir, says the Catholic aid agency is planning to provide free medical and educational camps in several slums in the state later in the year.

Watch this ucanews.com video for more on Kashmir's slums.

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