Waiting for Evacuation: Stranded Kashmiris Ask – ‘Is There Someone?’

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Over 40,000 Kashmiris stranded outside Valley in current lockdown have been trying to convey their issues to the authorities via every medium possible. Despite the lately floated official help, many of them continue to await evacuation.

Jyotsna Bharti

JAISALMER, Rajasthan — Grappling with homecoming longing in the sweltering quarantine centre, Masooma Moosavi had never thought that her predicament will force her to put up an uncanny bio on her twitter handle: ‘When you’re stuck in a quarantine facility for more than 40 days, you end up signing in anywhere possible! So here I am.’

It’s already been 47 days since the young girl was quarantined at Jaisalmer army accommodation after being evacuated from Iran along with 34 students and 12 pilgrims.

And now, Masooma is among 14 girls asked to leave the quarantine facility and embark on 1135 km road journey to Kashmir on their own.

“All they said they could do for us was arrange a local bus that would drop us to Srinagar,” Masooma said. “By arranging a local bus I mean they’ll help us contact the driver, rest we’ve to pay ourselves. This is not what our parents were promised! More than a month has passed and we’re still not home!”

The young girl has been sending SOS-tweets to India’s Foreign Minister S Jaishanker as well as Srinagar Magistrate, Shahid Chowdhary.

“Is there someone?” she wrote on her twitter handle, floated during her unending quarantine period to plead for her tribe’s case.

“Sometimes I wonder what special material Allah used when he was creating us,” she said. “Tested negative 4 times; completed 3 quarantine in Jaisalmer’s scorching heat; were left behind without any logical reason and still here we’re in search of a spark of hope!”

Her tweets lately caught attention of a young J&K congressman, who sought Sachin Pilot’s intervention in the case.

Responding to the growing outcry of stranded Kashmiris, J&K government spokesperson, Rohit Kansal, said that people need to be patient, as “we are reaching out”.

But as Masooma’s pleas have so far fallen on deaf ears, she’s anticipating a long haul.

“And the count is going to increase as I have complete faith in mis-managing skills of our higher officials,” she rues.

Jaisalmer Army Quarantine Centre, clicked by Masooma

The homecoming despondency is growing despite Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) allowing stranded pilgrims, students, labourers to take up interstate road journey and return to their homes.

The government even floated the helpline numbers and appointed IAS officer Niraj Kumar as crisis manager.

But while the move is likely to help over 40,000 J&K residents stranded across 18 Indian states, the union territory administration is following its separate relaxation schedule.

It’s likely to come up with guidelines and SOP on movement of the students and workers shortly.

Already, the government has set up four quarantine centres in Kathua and Samba districts for people coming from outside. From last four days, said Ajeet Sahu, Commissioner Secretary, Jal Shakti department, a total of 6,355 labourers and students have been brought home.

But given the magnitude of lockdown crisis and count of stranded people outside the valley, civil society members are coming in support of stranded Kashmiris, asking government to clear decks for their homecoming.

Amid these advocacy measures, the distress calls seeking evacuation are continuously coming from different parts of India and the world. One such call recently came from Bangladesh.

The caller was speaking from Benapole on the India-Bangladesh border, where about 80 students have been stranded.

“We told them that they can’t cross the border due to lockdown,” said a government official. “We advised them [students] to go back to their hostels for a time being.”

But students tell some other story.

“How can we go back to our hostels when we were asked to vacate the same by the college administration in Bangladesh,” one of the students said. “We are stuck at border, as we aren’t being allowed to enter the Indian side. We’re literally on the road. Please help us!”

The similar desperate scenes for homecoming are being witnessed in other Indian cities. In Bhopal, for instance, 250 Kashmiri students are stuck and are demanding immediate evacuation.

“We talked to District Development Commissioner Bhopal who in turn informed Government of India, but till date, nothing has been done to give us a respite,” said a student Muzaffar Hussain.

Most of these stranded students in Bhopal are hailing from Central Kashmir’s Budgam district.

“We don’t know how long this lockdown will continue,” Hussain said. “But we’re already feeling a mental breakdown. Far from home, in this crisis, we are only getting anxious and fretful.”

Many of these stranded Kashmiris have grown unnerved after some of their brethren faced identity-based hate attacks in Jaipur.

Earlier, a bunch of woeful Kashmiri girls running out of ration in Delhi’s Hauz Khas sought J&K government’s support for immediate evacuation. Stuck in a hostel, these Kashmiri girls said they were ill-treated and harassed for rent, which they aren’t able to pay amid pandemic lockdown.

“There’s no one for us here,” a Kashmiri girl said appealing for evacuation. “We’re helpless. We want to go home. We’re suffering from mental agony here.”

Clearly, as the issue is fast snowballing into an outcry despite what many say the “late and little” official response, many Kashmiri unionists have jumped on the bandwagon.

“It’s been frustrating to not do as much, as one would have liked for them [stranded Kashmiris],” said Omar Abdullah, former JK CM.

Earlier, the former union minister Saifuddin Soz beseeched Raj Bhavan to come to the rescue of the 3000-odd stranded Kashmiri labourers in Kangra and other areas of Himachal Pradesh.

“They want to return to their homes in Kupwara and other districts of Kashmir as they are unemployed and were exposed to hardships of life,” Soz said after receiving distress calls from the stranded labourers on April 19, 2020.

Even the Marxist leader, Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami, in a letter to Lt Governor G C Murmu, said the lockdown imposed to prevent the spread of the disease has resulted in hundreds of Kashmiri labourers and students getting stuck in various states of the country, including Punjab, Harayana, Himachal Pradesh, Delhi, UP and other states.

But despite these calls for help, the cries for homecoming are only getting loud and desperate.

“In this lockdown, we’re running out of money,” Firdous Ahmad, a Kashmiri trader stuck in Delhi said. “Please evacuate us immediately.”

Only in New Delhi, 11,000 Kashmiris, as per the official figures, are stranded at the moment. Some of them even approached media agencies to help them to get evacuated. But when it didn’t help, they decided to use social media to plead for their case.

“There’re around 2000 of us here,” Gowher Mir, a Kashmiri trader stranded in Goa, said. “Some of us working in remote corners [of Goa] are running out of resources now. We want to go back home. Our families are getting worried for us, so are we in this crisis situation.”

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Jyotsna Bharti

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