An uneasy silence has engulfed a small market in Srinagar, which would otherwise be frequented by hundreds of tourists and locals daily, after the killing of the son of an eatery owner.
For the past 13 days, the Durga-Nag market at Dalgate in Srinagar has been desolate and locals and traders in grief. The market’s star landmark Krishna Dhaba was hit by a tragedy last month.
Aakash Mehra, 25, the only son of the eatery’s owner Ramesh Chandra Mehra was shot-at on February 17 and succumbed to his injuries 11 days later.
The eatery is famous for its vegetarian dishes which attract a large number of customers and has been the main reason for the flurry of activity in the area. Among its clientele, are many of Srinagar’s influential and prominent people.
Other shopkeepers in the locality said that the young Mehra was studying in Jammu and had come to help his father after the lockdown induced by the Covid-19 pandemic was lifted a few months back.
Mehra’s extended family, which is originally from Jammu and has been here for the past many decades, runs four eateries and two general stores in the market. There are half a dozen Kashmir art shops and a sweet store run by locals and a commercial complex near Krishna dhaba. All the shops mostly have been rented out by a trust. While the Mehra’s have been closed since the attack, the whole market was shut on Sunday and Monday as a mark of protest over the killing. Though the other shops were open on Tuesday, the roadside carts which would add to the hustle and bustle outside the Mehra’s dhaba were absent.
“Everybody in this market is heartbroken. The market closed for two days after his death. This place is famous because of them and they are always helpful to everyone here,” said Javaid Ahmad Khan, who runs a Kashmir art outlet just opposite the dhaba on the other side of the road.
“I live here and have grown up with them. During floods in 2014, they also helped in organising a langar here” he said. “They have been here for many decades and nobody raised a finger against them during the thick of militancy”.
Khan was in his shop when the attack took place on the late evening of February 17 as most of Srinagar was observing a spontaneous shutdown during the visit of a delegation of EU envoys.
He heard the sound of the first bullet late evening and thought it was a firecracker. The sound of two more shots sent people scurrying. Khan rushed out of his shop and ran to the dhaba where Mehra was lying injured.
“I didn’t see them but people say they came on a bike, went to the counter and fired thrice at him. There was a lot of rush that day owing to strike on the occasion of the visit of a foreign delegation,” he said.
Khan said that he visited the injured Mehra in the hospital on the second day before he underwent a surgery for his perforated intestines. “He asked if I had seen them. I said, no, I was inside. I thought he would be fine but then his condition deteriorated after the surgery,” he said.
Police have already arrested three persons involved in the attack who they said have confessed to the crime. Kashmir’s inspector general of police (IGP) Vijay Kumar had said on February 19 that the trio was newly recruited militants and was instigated by The Resistance Front (TRF) to strike at Krishna Dhaba where tourist rush is always high and the shop even remains open during hartals. The police have also recovered the bike and the pistol used in the attack.
However, most of the people in the market said that the Mehra’s would always close on the occasion of strike calls.
“They would always close their shop on hartals. That day many other shops were also open. It was not clear why they opened that day but it may be because there was ambiguity as there was no call of shutdown. But that does not mean they should be killed. There seems to be some conspiracy behind this,” said an auto driver who often ferries tourists to the area.
“We had witnessed a good rush of tourists from January 20 to February 15. Now it is just silence,” he said.
The traders have been mulling to send a delegation to express their condolences to the Mehra family in Jammu.
“Whosoever did this is condemnable. He was an innocent young man. The market has been desolate since Krishna Dhaba closed. It was the reason for the footfall in our trade outlets,” said Manzoor Ahmad, president of Durga-Nag Traders’ Union.