Remains of the Army Camp in Bela-Slamabad built on a stream bank
Photo: Shrimoyee Nandini Ghosh
Remains of the Army Camp in Bela-Slamabad built on a stream bank Photo: Shrimoyee Nandini Ghosh

Landscapes of an occupation

Has militarisation increased disaster vulnerability in India-administered Jammu & Kashmir?

(This article is a part of the web-exclusive series from our latest issue 'Disaster Politics'. More from the print quarterly here.)

The road to the village of Gulzarpora from Kakapora in the Pulwama district of south Kashmir winds its way up and down hilly orchard country. Around us are terraced plateaus called Karewas – humped, clay deposits about 300 metres high. The Karewas are a product of a Pleistocene-era earthquake, which caused the ancient Satisar Lake to drain away, revealing the Jhelum Valley between the folds of the Pir Panjal and the Greater Himalayan mountain ranges. All along one side of the road are tangled barbwires. A few kilometres ahead, we see a high sound-proofed grey metal fence interrupted by watchtowers. This is the Indian Air Force's massive Awantipora (Koil) Airforce Station, built on the Karewa uplands of Quil and Malangpora. Like most large military installations in Kashmir, it is built on higher ground and overlooks the town of Awantipora like a panopticon. On the other side of the road lies the ten-foot-high embankment of the 'strategically important' Jammu-Baramulla railway line. This runs roughly parallel to the left bank of the river Jhelum (historically more prone to breaches) bifurcating the whole valley longitudinally. Flanked by the air-force base on one side and the railway line and river on the other is the beleaguered village of Gulzarpora – our destination.

Given the elevation and the terrain, Gulzarpora seems an unlikely place for stagnating water. But the surrounding land is a marsh of rotting apples and plants, and the few concrete walls that remain standing all bear the telltale mark of the flood line. This, even when we visit six weeks after the India-Pakistan floods of September 2014, which killed 557 people and submerged about 2600 villages in India-administered Jammu & Kashmir alone.

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Himal Southasian