In our quasi normalcy time, it was just three hours journey from Srinagar to Banihal. Though, cumbersome due to many checkpoints, identifications and quizzing by security forces has now become part of our destiny. We have been tamed for such humiliations and we hardly react to it now. We realise our limited rights, divine rule of AFSPA and hedonistic exhibition of Jeep tying incidents of civilians.
Every time we leave home, we always bear in mind that we have to face fatal challenges and we do often recite Ayat-ul-kursi for not getting trapped into any such mishap which has been consuming our lives, I remember since my college days.
This day on my journey to Banihal, either my prayers did not reach to Almighty or I hurried without knowing the fact that everything has changed in Jammu and Kashmir since recent elections. Not only Kashmir, but India is changing in every aspect of life.
I had to reach higher secondary school in Khari Banihal where students from remote and inaccessible hilly areas were eager to quiz me about my career and take tips for their life, safety and future. I was dreading about the fact what I should tell them if they raise questions on safety concerns of girls.
It turned out to be the most horrible day in my life. At crossing near Sangam on the highway, one of the security officials directed my driver to park the car on the other side of the road where dozens of vehicles with frustrated people crammed inside were already being put under “halt surveillance”. Road was dusty, Sun was red hot and rage was brewing.
J&K police official coming from the opposite side in a vehicle expressed helplessness. “National highway is controlled and managed directly by CRPF. I have no role but to eat dust all day. Thanks to Mehbooba Mufti and her alliance. He said with fake smile on his face. I just kept staring at him.
Waiting for half an hour, another officer of JK police came to my rescue and permitted my car to take internal route via Dialagam, Dooru and on to Verinag and Banihal Tunnel.
Few miles drive was all we could do when another wait of forty minutes was imposed on us near Anantnag chowk. It seemed war like situation… We, all in car were being x rayed by eagle eyed security officials from every angle. Behind our car was a couple with two kids on motorbike which made my heartbeat halt. I felt angrier over man who had three human beings behind without helmet and the kid was holding mama’s back in a very precarious situation. Security officials with divine powers were halting every one with big stick in hand and mocking face. We decided to mock back but then the official made a sign to move forward.
Somehow we reached at Verinag crossing and thankfully it was few minutes drive from here to tunnel. A local traffic cop stopped us and yelled, “I will only let you through if you have order from Centre. I will not accept police permission”.
I found it very funny and started to laugh. My Kashmiri friend from US accompanying me was so frustrated that he started heated argument with the traffic cop. Security personnel at the other side of the crossing were laughing. They perhaps felt it very entertaining. Perhaps, it was more than that.
Another police officer when approached by me on phone advised us proceed on link road which connects to highway later end. He said he will meet us at zig (honestly, I don’t know what Zig is).
Traffic cop was smirking while watched us succumb and leaving. He felt victorious, that was obvious by his expression.
Meeting police officer amid huge traffic halt at zig was something beyond our reach. The road was nowhere to be seen due to long queue of hundreds of vehicles. So, I gave up and asked driver if he can manage to reverse.
We saw Yatra vehicles coming from Jammu chanting “Jai Sri Ram” and many more slogans. My friend was suggesting a visit to Verinag instead of Banihal. I was seething with anger and frustration.
We were about to turn back when I got a call from police officer asking me to move now towards Banihal. I was indecisive but my friend became adamant to move towards Banihal despite so much wait, dust and humiliation.
My car somehow crossed tunnel after seven hours of journey where security on duty stopped us again as many yatra buses coming from Jammu were about to cross the other side of the tunnel.
When I objected, I was silenced by the argument that the road is too narrow to accommodate two vehicles at a time until I called another police official who rubbished the argument and permitted us to move.
The scene in Banihal town was more pathetic and heartbreaking. Here normal tourists from other states of India were advised to wait until 3 pm to cross the tunnel. Many families with kids and babies were frantically looking for food, shelter and help. Only locals were giving them smile and hope and something to eat. All of a sudden, the rain started pouring in and everybody rushed for a shelter. It was very painful to see tourist kids and babies crying and mothers hiding them under their bosom.
I was lost in my childhood memories of Amarnath Yatra in the middle of Banihal town when Yatris and Sadhus would come for pilgrimage to cave. We would wait for them to come to our house. My father would feed them, cloth them and let them rest. In return they would promise us to pray at Cave for the peace and prosperity of Kashmir. This bonding would get rekindle every year and continued until this new era began. Now, “managed yatra” seems to have reduced us to dead souls. We and Yatris have become pawns for politicians.
And, only those seem to have chance to survive in this precarious situation who have guts to raise emotions of hate, anger and animosity among humans and religions. Our religion teaches us love for every human being irrespective of religion, status or region. We cannot change our DNA because of somebody’s divisive politics. We would always open our hearts for Yatris.