Through the course of the Kargil war in 1999, civilian porters played a pivotal role. Braving constant shelling by the Pakistani side, hundreds of them ferried supplies and ammunition to Indian troops during those two months of battle. Twenty years later, The Indian Express spoke to four who stepped up at the time.
Mohammed Isaq, 37, a resident of Dras, who was a porter for the Army when the war broke out, and continues to work with them even today, said they could not turn their backs on the troops.
“I was very young then. Before the war also, I was doing the job of a porter. When the Army sought our help, we could not back down. For nearly two months, we would leave in the night and arrive back to our bases again in the morning,” he said.
“The fear was such, and the shelling was so intense, that no one was allowed to come out of their houses during the day,” he added.
It was a time fraught with constant danger. Mohammed Ali, 45, remembers a particular close shave he had.
“I still remember, one night, a shell fell into an area where we were staying with the Army at a post in the mountains. The shell killed Army men but the porters survived. There were several times (throughout the war) when shells landed close to us. When I meet some of the Army men now, after so many years, they say, we are alive now because of your help then,” said Ali.
Traversing paths those days, the porters would hardly eat. “For all those days, most of the time we would eat biscuits only. I remember, we had taken trucks of ammunition to several Army posts during the night and shells were flying in the air like stars. We were not sure that if we return home again,” says 52- year-old Mohsin Ali, another porter. Ali however, says their contribution was not fully recognised by the Army.
But he does not want to live through another war. “Even now, I work as a porter. I don’t want to see those times again. I only wish that there is no war again because it causes destruction and lost of lives. War does well to no one,” he says.
Over the course of the war however, the fears of several porters receded.
“Initially, there was a lot of fear and whenever a shell dropped nearby, we would hide behind the horses. But then, we got used to it as we became witness to intense shelling. The fear of death ended,” says porter Ghulam Mohuddin.
While the job was dangerous, we did not back down, he added.
“Every day, we used to leave from home in the evening and then return in the morning. We continued to do it because this was the only livelihood for us then,” he said.