Ahmad Bashir Dar, a resident of South Kashmir wakes up two hours earlier than his scheduled time these days. Dar works as a professor of political science at a college in Srinagar. Earlier, it used to take Dar over 45 minutes to cover the distance from his home to his college. However, since the commencement of Amarnath Yatra, his schedule has changed for worse. Not only he has to wake up early in the morning, but he also has to wait in the traffic jam till the pilgrims’ vehicles and convoys pass by. He says that it has affected his mental health and he is perpetually angry these days.
“I think I need psychiatric consultation. Every day I wait in the traffic for 2 to 3 hours. What is worse is that when I reach the college, I am already tired and angry. Most of the times, I vent out my frustration on my students and then I realise that it is not right. Same happens at home, I have turned into an angry man. I lose my temper over little things and later I realise that I was wrong. I was not like this before. Waiting for 5-6 hours in the traffic does that to you. You feel suffocated and the wait kills you. I waste over five hours in the traffic every day.”
Dar and his friends have named the National Highway as “Military Highway.” He says that the restrictions on mobility started after the Pulwama terror attack, which led to killing of over 40 CRPF men when civilian traffic on the highway was banned and has continued intermittently. But after the Amarnath Yatra, the situation has become even worse.
Also read: Lives of Locals Affected on First Day of Highway Ban in the Valley
The curb on civilian traffic along the highway has disrupted the lives of locals who find it difficult to complete their day to day chores. NewsClick travelled to Pantha chowk, where the transit camp for pilgrims has been established. The entire stretch leading to the chowk was dotted with men from the Central Reserve Police Forces (CRPF), who are placed every half a kilometre. Hundreds of halted civilians vehicles could be seen waiting for the convoys and the Yatris to pass.
Train Services Affected
Train services on Banihal-Qazigund rail section have been suspended for a duration of 6 hours every day. As per the orders issued, “Train services will remain suspended from 10 AM to 3 PM till the completion of Amarnath Yatra.” The 46-day yatra will conclude on August 15.
A resident from Srinagar, Shahid said, “I travel to Anantnag often. Yesterday, I was there. As the highway situation is too messed up, I took the train. But now the train services have also been suspended. How do you think we should travel? What about those who are unwell and can’t afford to wait for hours in the traffic?”
Locals believe the curbs and restrictions is a machination orchestrated by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to push Kashmiris to the wall. Another resident said, “Now the trains have been suspended. How do you think we should commute? This is harassment. This is what the BJP wants. They want to show they care for Hindus by oppressing Muslims. This is to fuel their popular narrative in India and we are the victims of that.”
Restrictions: New Phenomenon
Besides locals, pilgrims and drivers have expressed their unhappiness over such restrictions as well. Ajesh Kumar, hailing from Jammu, has been chauffeuring Amarnath pilgrims for the last 16 years. This time, he says, he reached Pantha chowk - where the transit camp has been established - before the scheduled time as the civilian traffic was blocked to clear the road for the pilgirms. He said that since 1993, this is the first time he has experienced such restrictions. “I feel sad and helpless when I see locals waiting for hours for the traffic to pass. It’s sad but I keep convincing myself that it might be for the security situation, but what these locals have to do with that. They are performing their jobs.”
Also read: Amarnath Yatris are our Guests, We are not Terrorists as Indian Media Portrays Us, Say Kashmiris
Imtiyaz has been driving a tempo for the last 5 years, carrying 12-15 pilgrims in each go. He said, “We used to take 2 to 3 days to reach Pantha chowk but this time we reached on the same day. The entire civilian traffic was blocked and in my experience of 5 years I have seen this for the first time.”
Ashok, a pilgrim from Shirdi, Maharashtra, has been visiting the Amarnath cave for the last 9 years. For him, Kashmiris are the best people and he feels like home. Condemning the restrictions, he said, “In my 9 years of travel, it is the first time that I have seen such a restriction. The civilians vehicles wait for hours. Why the restriction in the first place? We were never threatened by the locals here. They always treated us as one. I always felt at home.”