Amid a complete information blockade, people are trying everything from lining up at crowded government offices that have working telephones to approaching OB vans of satellite news channels, to get word out to their families.
After the blockade came into force Sunday night, Naazir Ahmad from Sopore, whose sister is studying at a university in Chandigarh, first went to the local BSNL exchange on Tuesday to try and contact her. Told their servers were down, he went to the Srinagar airport the next day to look for a person going to Chandigarh. “I gave my sister’s number to a person, and requested him to call her as soon the aircraft arrived in Chandigarh,” Ahmad said. He also visited the BSNL exchange in Srinagar and the local Deputy Commissioner’s office in the city, and says was not allowed entry in either.
barricaded the roads and ask for curfew passes. How do we even get those curfew passes?”
On Thursday afternoon finally, through a police officer’s phone, he managed to call his sister. Ahmad said she told him she is leaving for home, and would arrive Sunday. “She said it was not safe to be in Chandigarh.”
While the government claims to have set up 300 telephone booths to help people contact their family members outside the Valley, there is no information on where these booths are located. Said a Srinagar resident, “Even if we know where they are set up, how do we reach them? They have barricaded the roads and ask for curfew passes. How do we even get those curfew passes?”
Ali Mohammed, 55, who lives in Old Srinagar with his wife, struggled for three days to reach their daughter, who works in Delhi. On Monday, he managed to send a message through a relative that they were fine and requested her to recharge their Dish TV, which had stopped working Saturday. On Wednesday afternoon, they received a letter from the daughter, sent by her through a common friend arriving from Delhi. “Hello Mumma and Abu,” it said, “I am okay. I will come home soon. Please turn on the television because I have recharged the Dish TV. You can watch the news.”
Mohammed Idrees visited a news channel’s office in New Delhi and requested them to send a message to his father through its reporter in the Valley. The reporter contacted Idrees’s father to say he was safe and wanted to speak to him. “I visited the channel’s office and they helped me talk to him through their satellite phone,” the father said. Relieved, he added, “We couldn’t sleep all these days without any information on him.”
Bilal Ahmad’s brother spent all day Monday at the Srinagar airport waiting for him to arrive from Saudi Arabia, where he works as a doctor. He left only after the last flight had arrived without him, worried and without any information. The family members visited the local police station next to try contact Bilal on a satellite phone. It was only on Thursday morning that a relative, who had managed to contact Ahmad in Saudi Arabia through a friend who had travelled to Delhi, brought the message that the doctor had cancelled his tickets.
“There were some rumours that a doctor had been killed in Delhi. My mother kept crying all these days. Ahmad is now arriving on Sunday,” said younger brother Imtiyaz Ahmad. After waiting four days to reach family members in Baramulla, Ibtihaj Ahmad, 21, who studies interior design in Mohali, flew down from Chandigarh to meet them on Friday. “I kept watching television in the hope of hearing something about my place. They talked a little bit about Srinagar but nothing about any other place in the Valley.” However, having arrived in Srinagar, Ibtihaj had no idea how he would make his way to his home in Khawja Bagh in Baramulla, 55 km away.
With TV channels and newspaper reporters limited to a small perimeter in Srinagar, news from other parts of the Valley, both from north and south, and even peripheries of the city, is only trickling in through patients and their attendants travelling to Srinagar hospitals. Like a group of youth from Tahab village in Pulwama, who travelled to Srinagar on Thursday afternoon with a friend who had fractured an arm. “We don’t even know what is happening in our village,” they said. “There is an eerie silence. People are very angry but there is an unprecedented deployment of forces.”
Ali Mohammad took six hours to cover 110 km from Chowkibal in Kupwara to Srinagar’s Bone and Joint (B&J) Hospital — a journey that normally takes less than half the time. Pointing to his six-year-old daughter, who lay on a thermocoal sheet on the hospital pavement, Ali said, “She fractured her elbow three weeks ago. The doctors had given an appointment for today to remove the pins from it. We were stopped at over a dozen places on the way.” He too described the situation along the route, including in Sopore and Pattan, as calm. “People are very angry but quiet.”
Bashir Ahmad has been at the hospital with his mother for over a week. Ahmad’s mother was discharged on Thursday afternoon, but he doesn’t know how to go back home to Safapora. “We have no news from home for four days,” he said. “We are anxious, but there is no vehicle to take us back. We are waiting for an ambulance to come from our side.”