A sinking feeling: Owners of Kashmir's iconic houseboats fret over 'ailing heritage'

A general view shows the city and its houseboats from the top of the mountain during a government-imposed nationwide lockdown in Srinagar on April 3, 2020. (AFP)
A general view shows the city and its houseboats from the top of the mountain during a government-imposed nationwide lockdown in Srinagar on April 3, 2020. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 19 September 2021

A sinking feeling: Owners of Kashmir's iconic houseboats fret over 'ailing heritage'

A general view shows the city and its houseboats from the top of the mountain during a government-imposed nationwide lockdown in Srinagar on April 3, 2020. (AFP)
  • A 2005 building and repair ban restricted owners from houseboat maintenance, causing many to sink
  • Experts urge authorities to ease policies and preserve the 'identity of Kashmir' after COVID-19 related travel curbs upended industry

NEW DELHI: Manzoor Kundroo wistfully traces his fingers over the intricate woodwork that lines the interiors of the King’s Ring, his family-owned heritage houseboat and one of many stationed on the iconic Dal Lake in Srinagar, Kashmir.
It’s been the pride of his family for more than 80 years and their main source of revenue but fell into disrepair after a 2009 Kashmir High Court directive banned construction work in the area as part of an environmental policy to protect Dal.
Authorities were also asked to reduce houseboat numbers and not to renew licenses. The order proved devastating for Kundroo and hundreds like him – with owners banned from repairing them, many houseboats began to sink.
A part of King’s Ring sank a few months ago. Today, its woodwork is rotting, and the carpets stink, but Kundroo says he has no money to keep it afloat.
“The boat needs urgent repair work for it to be used, but I have a family to take care of. The money we used to earn from the houseboat was more than enough for us and the boat’s maintenance. Now, it’s not possible,” Kundroo, 39, told Arab News.
A houseboat is a redesigned boat that serves as a home for tourists with amenities on offer; charges vary based on the facilities provided.
They were first built on Dal Lake in the late 19th century as a place for Europeans – banned by the Kashmir king from owning land in the region – to reside in.
Over a century later, houseboats rose to over 3,000 and were often featured in Bollywood films, becoming a tourism mainstay in the disputed Kashmir region.
Before they hit rock bottom, the Kundroo family used to earn $800 a month by renting the facility to local and foreign tourists who visited the picturesque valley and its must-see attractions.
Nowadays, however, he and his extended family of 11 reside in an area adjacent to the houseboat, struggling to make ends meet.
There are over 950 houseboats in Srinagar that are part of an industry that has been an intrinsic part of Kashmir’s cultural heritage for over 150 years, despite decades of conflict in the hotly contested region that India and Pakistan claim in entirety but rule in part.
But the aftermath of political unrest in the past two years and loss of tourism to the valley due to the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown hundreds of houseboat owners like Kundroo into the deep end.
Driven by the industry’s plight, in April, the government said it would allow owners to repair houseboats if they cleared their dues, such as power and water bills, and acquired a No Objection Certificate (NOC) for repair work, which often takes months to process.
But Kundroo, who has switched to a desk job at a tourism company to make ends meet, says it’s a vicious circle – without the houseboat, he cannot earn money to repair it, and without repairs, he cannot rent the facility.
“We could not get the NOC from the government to repair it, and it sank. For the past year, we haven’t paid electricity bills as we don’t have money. We are willing to pay if we are allowed to earn,” he said.
He added that a dearth of tourists to the valley had compounded the issue.
“Despite all the difficulties that the tourism in Kashmir used to face, we somehow used to survive on the income from the houseboat, but that certainty is gone,” Kundroo said.
In August 2019, New Delhi stripped Kashmir of its special semi-autonomous status, placing the region under a heavily militarised curfew, with Internet cut for more than six months.
Tourists turned away, and the numbers reduced to zero a few months later when the pandemic hit and India closed its borders to international visitors to curb the outbreak.
Much before that, Kundroo says King’s Ring had seen better days. It featured in the Kashmir shooting for the 1962 Hindi hit film, Aarzoo and had been “home,” for a few days, to the acclaimed late comedian, Mehmood Ali, father of renowned singer Lucky Ali.
Activists, for their part, said they are concerned about the future of the industry.
“Over 20,000 people are directly dependent on earnings from houseboats,” Yakub Dunoo, president of the Houseboat Association of Kashmir, told Arab News.
Dunoo has been running the “voice of the voiceless people” campaign for the past two years to highlight the issue of boat owners who “are surviving on basic minimum with tourism since 2019 almost down.”
“We have asked the government to waive off all the charges and allow the repair to take place. The conditions are too harsh to fulfil,” he added.
Officials from the Jammu and Kashmir tourism department were unavailable for comment when contacted by Arab News on Saturday.
But houseboat owners such as Abdul Qadir Gasi said they are waiting for the government to “improve conditions.”
“My situation is such that if the government waives off thousands of rupees that houseboat owners owe to the electricity department, I will still not have money to repair the boat,” Gasi, 49, told Arab News.
Dunoo is hopeful of better days ahead, citing an uptick in tourism after the removal of COVID-19 travel curbs.
“If the situation continues like this, there might be some recovery,” he said.
Manzoor Wangoo, president of the Negin Lake Boat Association, agrees but is particularly concerned about Kashmir’s “loss of heritage.”
“Houseboats are an ailing heritage of Kashmir, and we want to preserve it. They need expensive repairs every year so that water does not seep in, but the financial situation of owners is so grim that they can’t do anything,” he told Arab News.
“They are the identity of Kashmir, and if we continue apathy toward houseboats, the next generation will only read about it in their textbooks,” he added.
Wangoo further implored the government to devise a “comprehensive policy” for owners who are already “on the verge of extinction” to preserve the heritage.
Kundroo says that’s all he’s asking for.
“Our main worry is not about money. It’s about losing heritage and history. If the government does not want us to survive as houseboats owners, it should rehabilitate us and give us royalty instead.”

Related


US and Canadian warships sailed through Taiwan Strait last week

US and Canadian warships sailed through Taiwan Strait last week
Updated 9 sec ago

US and Canadian warships sailed through Taiwan Strait last week

US and Canadian warships sailed through Taiwan Strait last week
  • China claims democratically-ruled Taiwan as its own territory
  • China sent around 150 aircraft into the zone over a four-day period beginning on Oct. 1
TAIPEI: A US and a Canadian warship sailed through the Taiwan Strait late last week, the American military said on Sunday, at a time of heightened tension between Beijing and Taipei that has sparked concern internationally.
China claims democratically-ruled Taiwan as its own territory, and has mounted repeated air force missions into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ) over the past year or more, provoking anger in Taipei.
China sent around 150 aircraft into the zone over a four-day period beginning on Oct. 1.
The US military said the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Dewey sailed through the narrow waterway that separates Taiwan from its giant neighbor China along with the Canadian frigate HMCS Winnipeg on Thursday and Friday.
“Dewey’s and Winnipeg’s transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the commitment of the United States and our allies and partners to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” it added.
American Navy ships have been transiting the strait roughly monthly, to the anger of Beijing, which has accused Washington of stoking regional tensions. US allies occasionally also send ships through the strait, including a British warship last month.
While tensions across the Taiwan Strait have risen, there has been no shooting and Chinese aircraft have not entered Taiwanese air space, concentrating their activity in the southwestern part of the ADIZ.
While including Taiwanese territorial air space, the ADIZ encompasses a broader area that Taiwan monitors and patrols that acts to give it more time to respond to any threats.
Taiwan’s defense ministry said on Sunday that three Chinese aircraft — two J-16 fighters and an anti-submarine aircraft — flew into the ADIZ again.

British MP’s killer was referred to counter-terrorism scheme: Reports

British MP’s killer was referred to counter-terrorism scheme: Reports
Updated 1 min 16 sec ago

British MP’s killer was referred to counter-terrorism scheme: Reports

British MP’s killer was referred to counter-terrorism scheme: Reports
  • Ali’s father, a former adviser to the PM of Somalia, confirmed to The Sunday Times that his son was in custody
  • Residents, including members of the Muslim community, heaped bouquets next to the police tape

LEIGH-ON-SEA: The attacker who fatally stabbed British lawmaker David Amess was referred to an official counter-terrorist scheme for those thought to be at risk of radicalization, according to media reports.
Police said late Saturday that detectives had until Friday, October 22, to question the suspect after he was detained under the Terrorism Act, which allowed them to extend his detention.
Veteran Conservative MP David Amess, 69, was talking with voters at a church in the small town of Leigh-on-Sea east of London when he was stabbed to death on Friday.
Police have said they are investigating “a potential motivation linked to Islamist extremism.” The investigation is being led by Scotland Yard’s Counter Terrorism Command.
The BBC said it had received confirmation from Whitehall officials that the man’s name is Ali Harbi Ali.
Ali, a British citizen of Somali heritage, had been referred to Prevent, the UK’s scheme for those thought at risk of radicalization a few years ago, the BBC reported.
Ali is believed not have spent long on the program, which is voluntary, and was never formally a “subject of interest” to MI5, the domestic security agency, said the BBC.
Police and security services believe the attacker acted alone and was “self-radicalized,” The Sunday Times reported, while he may have been inspired by Al-Shabab, Al-Qaeda-linked extremists in Somalia.
Ali’s father Harbi Ali Kullane, a former adviser to the prime minister of Somalia, confirmed to The Sunday Times that his son was in custody, adding: “I’m feeling very traumatized.”
Police said they have been carrying out searches at three addresses in the London area in a “fast-paced investigation.”
The Sun tabloid reported that the attacker stabbed Amess multiple times in the presence of two women staff, before sitting down and waiting for police to arrive.
The Daily Mail newspaper reported that he had booked an appointment a week ahead.
On Saturday evening, hundreds of mourners attended a candle-lit vigil at a sports field near the scene of the crime, holding a minute’s silence in the MP’s memory.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson earlier visited the crime scene to pay his respects on Saturday, laying floral wreaths outside the church with the leader of the opposition, Labour leader Keir Starmer in a rare show of unity.
Residents, including members of the Muslim community, also heaped bouquets next to the police tape.
Britain’s politicians were stunned by the highly public attack, which recalled the murder of a pro-EU lawmaker ahead of the Brexit referendum.
In June 2016, Labour MP Jo Cox was killed by a far-right extremist, prompting demands for action against what lawmakers said was “a rising tide” of public abuse and threats against elected representatives.
Home Secretary Priti Patel on Friday ordered police to review security arrangements for all 650 MPs and The Sunday Times reported that every MP could be granted security protection when meeting the public.
“We will carry on... We live in an open society, a democracy. We cannot be cowed by any individual,” Patel told journalists after laying a wreath for her fellow Essex MP.
Tobias Ellwood, a Conservative MP who tried to save a stabbed police officer during a 2017 terror attack near the Houses of Parliament, on Twitter urged a temporary pause in surgeries, or face-to-face meetings with constituents, until the security review is complete.
House of Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle in The Observer wrote that “we need to take stock” and review whether security measures introduced after Cox’s murder are “adequate to safeguard members, staff and constituents, especially during surgeries.”
MPs and their staff have been attacked before, although it is rare.
But their safety was thrown into sharp focus by Brexit, which stoked deep political divisions and has led to outburts of angry, partisan rhetoric.
Cox’s killer repeatedly shouted “Britain first” before shooting and stabbing the 41-year-old MP outside her constituency meeting near Leeds, northern England.
A specialist police unit set up to investigate threats against MPs in the aftermath of Cox’s murder said 678 crimes against lawmakers were reported between 2016 and 2020.
Amess, a Brexit backer, had written about public harassment and online abuse in his book “Ayes & Ears: A Survivor’s Guide to Westminster,” published last year.
“These increasing attacks have rather spoilt the great British tradition of the people openly meeting their elected politicians,” he said.
MPs have had to install security cameras and only meet constituents by appointment, he added.
Unlike some MPs, Amess publicized meeting times for constituents on Twitter and held them in public places, while asking people to book ahead.


Pope Francis decries attacks in Norway, Afghanistan and England

Pope Francis decries attacks in Norway, Afghanistan and England
Updated 4 min 31 sec ago

Pope Francis decries attacks in Norway, Afghanistan and England

Pope Francis decries attacks in Norway, Afghanistan and England
  • ‘I implore you, please, to abandon the path of violence, which is always a losing one’
VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis on Sunday decried recent deadly attacks in Norway, Afghanistan and Britain, expressing closeness to the families of victims and calling violence “a defeat for everyone.”
“Last week various attacks were carried out, for example in Norway, Afghanistan, England, which caused many deaths and injuries,” the pope said, after greeting the public in St. Peter’s Square for his customary Sunday remarks and blessings delivered from a window of the Apostolic Palace.
“I express my closeness to the families of the victims,” Francis said.
In Norway, a bow-and-arrow attack claimed five lives and left three persons wounded.
In southern Afghanistan, a suicide bombing at a mosque killed 47 people and wounded scores more. The Daesh group claimed responsibility.
In England, a British lawmaker who was meeting at a church with some of his constituents was fatally stabbed, and police are investigating the slaying as a terrorist act.
“I implore you, please, to abandon the path of violence, which is always a losing one, is a defeat for all,” Francis said. ”Let’s remember that violence generates violence.”
Norwegian police have been criticized for reacting too slowly to contain the massacre in the town of Kongsberg, acknowledging that the five deaths occurred after police first encountered the attacker, a 37-year-old local resident whom authorities say has admitted to the slayings and is undergoing psychiatric evaluation.
In Afghanistan, relatives of those killed by the bombing at a Shiite mosque in the Kandahar province in the south of the country called on the ruling Taliban to protect them.
British authorities haven’t publicly identified the suspect in the slaying of Conservative lawmaker David Amess in the town of Leigh-On-Sea.

France commemorates the 1961 massacre of Algerians in Paris

France commemorates the 1961 massacre of Algerians in Paris
Updated 17 October 2021

France commemorates the 1961 massacre of Algerians in Paris

France commemorates the 1961 massacre of Algerians in Paris
  • Historians say at least 120 protesters died

PARIS: A tribute march was organized on Sunday in Paris for the 60th anniversary of the bloody police crackdown on a protest by Algerians in the French capital, during the final year of their country’s independence war with its colonial power.
The commemoration comes after French President Macron acknowledged that “crimes” committed on Oct. 17, 1961 — which authorities have sought to cover up for decades — were “inexcusable for the Republic.”
“The repression was brutal, violent, bloody” under orders of Paris police chief Maurice Papon, Macron said in a statement released Saturday. About 12,000 Algerians were arrested and dozens were killed, “their bodies thrown into the Seine River,” the president’s office said.
Historians say at least 120 protesters died, some shot and some drowned, according to Macron’s office. The exact number has never been established as archives remain partially closed.
Papon later became the highest-ranking Frenchman convicted of complicity in crimes against humanity for his role in deporting Jews during World War II.
Human rights and anti-racism groups and Algerian associations in France staged a tribute march in Paris on Sunday afternoon. They called on authorities to further recognize the French state’s responsibilities in the “tragedies and horrors” related to Algeria’s independence war and to further open up archives.
Earlier Sunday, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo attended a tribute ceremony at the Saint-Michel bridge, in the capital’s city center.
Macron paid tribute to victims on Saturday at the Bezons bridge over the Seine River in the northwest of Paris. He was the first president to attend a commemoration event for the massacre.
Earlier this year, he announced a decision to speed up the declassification of secret documents related to Algeria’s 1954-62 war of independence from France. The new procedure was introduced in August, Macron’s office said.
The move was part of a series of steps taken by Macron to address France’s brutal history with Algeria, which had been under French rule for 132 years until its independence in 1962.
In 2018, Macron formally recognized the responsibility of the French state in the 1957 death of a dissident in Algeria, Maurice Audin, admitting for the first time the French military’s use of systematic torture during the war.


Russia’s reports record-high daily COVID-19 infections

Russia’s reports record-high daily COVID-19 infections
Updated 17 October 2021

Russia’s reports record-high daily COVID-19 infections

Russia’s reports record-high daily COVID-19 infections

MOSCOW: Russia reported 34,303 cases of new coronavirus infections in the past 24 hours, a record-high number since the start of the pandemic, data from the state coronavirus task force showed on Sunday.
It also reported 997 deaths from the disease, five fewer than the daily record-high of 1,002 reported the previous day.
The latest coronavirus deaths brought the official national death toll to 223,312, with a total of almost 8 million cases.
Russian authorities blame a slow vaccination campaign for the sharp rise of infections and deaths, which forced the health ministry to ask retired, vaccinated medics to return to hospitals.