Attack on cafe exposes vulnerability of ‘posh’ Srinagar

Shattered windows,ransacked seating areas,the walls stripped of the framed posters of theatrical productions from New York’s Broadway.

Written by RIYAZ WANI | Srinagar | Published:July 11, 2009 5:27 am

Shattered windows,ransacked seating areas,the walls stripped of the framed posters of theatrical productions from New York’s Broadway. A stunned silence now inhabits Coffea Arabica,Srinagar’s most famous cafe,after a furious mob vandalised it on Wednesday.

The mob’s immediate provocation was the murder of a 19-year-old youth,Asrar Mushtaq,from Maisuma by still unidentified persons. His body was recovered from a graveyard in the downtown city. Coming in the wake of the mayhem over rape and murder of the two women in Shopian and the killing of four youth by CRPF bullets in Baramulla,the murder worked as fuel to the fire.

The protests broke out in Maisuma and soon went out of control. Though normally confined to the interiors of the city,this time the protesters broke the security barrier and spilled onto the city’s hub,Lal Chowk,and went rampaging on posh Residency Road and soon were all over the Moulana Azad Road,alongside which falls Coffea Arabica,Srinagar’s famous tourist haunt and a retreat for the city’s affluent inhabitants.

The mob broke open the entrance and went in. A stone hit the plate of a French tourist couple. However,tourists,who were hurriedly exited through the backdoor,were not harmed.

Amit Amla,the cafe’s owner makes only guarded comments about the attack. “It happens,” Amla said. “We mainly cater to tourists. I hope it does not affect our business”. The cafe which escaped unscathed from the ravages of militancy has been completely vandalised. The Broadway posters,which formed a ubiquitous motif on the walls,lie broken on the floor amid the toppled tables and chairs.

The attack on the cafe is significant as it has serious implications for the tourism industry in the Valley. Despite recent violence,figures released by the state’s tourism department showed a regular stream — albeit modest — of foreigners.

But at a larger level,the incident marks a critical stage in the development of the ongoing troubled situation in the Valley,with protesters breaking free of their traditional downtown domain and marching into the city’s otherwise out-of-bounds posh markets.

While Coffea Arabica may not be a Leopold Cafe,it is,nevertheless,the only high-end coffee address in the city. However,the cafe was not the only one attacked on the day. A hundred odd metres before it,the newly opened Cafe Robusta too was destroyed. Also,a modest paan shop near the Tourist Reception Centre was also looted.

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