A group of 44 Kashmiris, who had gone to Iran on a pilgrimage, find themselves stranded in Mumbai with no immediate possibility of returning home.
The Kashmiris, who have all tested negative for COVID-19, have been twiddling thumbs at the naval facility in Ghatkopar since over a week. With domestic flights shut down and no approval for a special pick-up by a Navy aircraft, several suffering from illnesses like diabetes are finding the hot weather of Mumbai difficult to deal with.
They have, however, been told to stay put at least till April 15, when there is a possibility of the lockdown being lifted partially.
Mohammad Ibrahim Sofi (63), the group leader of Saqlain Tours that organised the tour to Iran, said they have been at the Ghatkopar naval facility since March 13, the day they arrived in Mumbai. “After we tested negative for the virus on March 29, we were told by the naval authorities that a special aircraft would airlift us to Kashmir. However, the district administration has so far not given any approval.”
He added, “While the Navy administration has looked after all our needs, some senior citizens are above 80 and find the hot weather here difficult to bear. Some have illnesses like diabetes and we have to get them tested twice a day, which becomes difficult to manage.”
Ibrahim said that apart from those stuck here, some have dependents in Kashmir. “Both my father and uncle need us to be around to look after them. Now, they are there alone. Hence, we wanted to reach home as soon as we could.”
Tassaduq Ali, Ibrahim’s son, is keeping in touch with the district administration in Kashmir. “Three days ago, we met the divisional commissioner who told us that our families will have to wait in Mumbai till April 14, as the Centre has asked everyone to stay put wherever they are.”
When contacted, Divisional Commissioner P K Pole said, “The Air Force is looking into the issue.”
Mohammad Sadiq Sofi, Ibrahimn’s brother who also went on the tour, said: “The original plan was to fly into Delhi and to Jammu from there. However, due to COVID-19, we had to take a Mumbai flight. We were all checked for the virus in Iran where we tested negative. We are 24 women and 20 men.”
He added, ” After being in quarantine for 14 days in Mumbai, we were tested and the results confirmed that none of us had the virus. We were told that we would be sent to Kashmir on Monday. However, today, Navy officials told us that the district administration in Srinagar has not allowed us to return.”
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