Desperate people waiting for a lift or walking on foot has become a common sight in the trouble-torn Kashmir Valley where public transport has remained suspended for the past 80 days. As one passes through the otherwise busy highways and main roads in south and north Kashmir, long queues of people can be seen along the roadside trying to reach their destination with the help of strangers passing through.
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“We have been waiting here for the past two hours to reach Bijbehara,” says Ghulam Nabi, who was standing with his wife and two children at Awantipora, 35 km south of Srinagar. He was hopeful that by the evening he would reach his destination where he had to attend a wedding function.
This is not a one-off case as buses and other means of transport including rail has remained suspended ever since protests started in the Valley on July 9, a day after Hizbul Mujahideen militant Burhan Wani was killed in an encounter.
Dotted with poplar trees, the highway in Baramulla is no different with people walking long distances to reach their destination.
“I hope to get a lift to reach my destination. My relative is fighting cancer and has been admitted to Soura Medical Institute in Srinagar,” Abdul Rashid, a resident of Pattan, said.
Rashid says it is not easy to walk the 35-km distance to and fro in the prevailing turmoil when violent clashes between the protesters and the law enforcing agencies have become the order of the day.
“While most of the times we prefer to stay at the hospital but sometimes it becomes imperative to reach home to know the welfare of the family in the absence of mobile service which has mostly remained suspended during major part of the past over two months,” he said, extending his gratitude for the ‘lift’.
Recounting his ordeal while shuttling between the hospital and his home, Rashid, a farmer by profession and the only earning member in the family of 10, said the law and order situation once forced him to abandon the plan of reaching his residence despite covering a distance of 30 km on foot.
“Clashes in Pattan forced me to go to my relatives’ place in a nearby village several times. Sometimes the vehicle we were travelling in got damaged after getting caught in the stone-pelting,” he said.
Fatima, a government employee hailing from Srinagar and posted in the sensitive Sopore township, said she had responded to the government’s call to report for duty but lack of transport and the frequent clashes was making life difficult for her.
“Government has warned that our salaries will be withheld from September if we fail to report for duty but has no plan to facilitate our movement. Once I leave home for office, my family gets anxious and prays for my safe return. You can’t imagine the tense movements I am facing,” she said while thanking all those unknown people who have been kind to her.
Another common sight on the roads and highways is vehicles with damaged windscreens and two wheelers with smashed headlights. The vehicles, mostly private cars, have been a target of stone-pelting protesters for defying the separatist-sponsored strike.
Public and private transporters have been the worst-hit by the unrest. They have not only been deprived of the opportunity to earn a livelihood but are also finding it difficult to repay their auto loans.