Can traditional Kashmiri rifle-makers ‘Make in India’ again?

A photo-feature on the traditional bandooksmiths of Srinagar, Kashmir by Sagar Kaul.

Factory with an expiry date: A grubby looking factory, with ageing workers and not a young person in sight. Hardly evidence of a once thriving industry in Kashmir right? But over 20 rifle makers made hunting rifles in pre-Independence India, right up until the 90s. Craft and a gun often sit and shine in Indian museums, but do the minute carvings and walnut butts, which distinguished Kashmir – made rifles find a place too? In real life, they are gasping for breath as a craft and industry today. Even as this area of Srinagar continues to be the traditional bandooksmith’s mohalla.

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Caught in the middle: Through the 90s, these master craftsmen had to change their profession. Being sought out by militants and the army alike, as they were. The worldwide arms trade statistics corroborate what local Kashmiris tell us – The militants have moved on to more sophisticated guns.

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A cottage industry revival: With a historicity going back a couple of hundred years, Kashmir used to pride itself on being able to create the most well-crafted daggers and later rifles (Also called Riffles locally). Zaroo & Sangam gun factories are one among many, who started making them again in 2013.

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Can the mohalla become a new source of employment: With the recent positive shifts in the scale of violence, the state government has tried to help. It has given permission to the gun manufacturing units, to restart production and issued permits to some of them. The owner of one of the gun factories tells us,” The government gives us a permit to make 50 rifles in a month. But they have stopped issuing gun licenses to the people who are interested in owning hunting rifles. So, if we are not able to sell any guns, what good is the permit for us?”

J & K wildlife laws allow the hunting of some migratory birds, with required permissions. Locals point to the Jammu region which accommodates more licenses and manufacture of guns. Is the dilemma of an unpredictable national border, leading to a half-hearted response to a possible employment option? Or is it a lack of clarity in the state government’s vision. Questions we leave you with. In this photo story, from inside a gunsmith’s factory.

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