Ahead of Ramzan, Stranded Kashmiris Question Centre's 'Apathy' to Their Plight

The Kupwara district administration's helpline for Kashmiris stuck across India has received more than 400 calls.

Jalandhar: Ramzan brings fresh woes for Kashmiris stuck in Punjab who are not being allowed to cross the border to enter the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir.

With fewer than four days to go for Ramzan to begin, Kashmiris stranded in Punjab have written to Jalandhar MP Santokh Singh and Khadoor Sahib MP Jasbir Singh Gill, requesting that they plead their case with Union home minister Amit Shah.

In the letter, Kashmiris have stated that they are ready to get quarantined but the Modi government should allow them to go back to their homes ahead of Ramzan.

While over 1,000 Kashmiris including students, employees, shawl sellers, wood cutters and labourers are stuck in Punjab, nearly 1,200 of them from Punjab, Haryana and other states have been staying at the quarantine facility at Pathankot on the Punjab-Jammu border since March 28 onwards. They said that as the lockdown was announced with little notice on March 24, they were stuck.

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Bilal Ahmad*, a resident of Kupwara, is one among the 170 Kashmiris staying at Shahjahanpur village in Pathankot.

“We are supposed to stay in quarantine for 14 days but we have completed 20 days. Neither are we being released, nor is the J&K administration responding to our pleas. Ramzan is approaching and we cannot hope to observe Roza in such a condition.”

Bilal also said that 170 people had been using four washrooms at the quarantine centre in Pathankot. “You can well imagine our plight. We are feeling helpless,” he said, adding that Pathankot administration has not been able to help alleviate their problems at all. Most people walked, or hitchhiked up to Lakhanpur, only to find that the Punjab-Jammu border was sealed, he said.

The Kashmiris also pointed out that if the Uttar Pradesh government has been allowed to arrange 300 buses to bring back students stuck in Kota, there should be opportunity for recourse in their situation too. “Recently, we even spoke to the J&K Advisor to the Lieutenant Governor, Farooq Khan, Rajya Sabha MP Fayaz Ahmad Mir, along with local district administration but to no avail. We are nobody’s concern,” another Kashmiri, stuck at Pathankot, said.

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G.H. Nabi, a shawl seller from Kupwara, who is currently in Jalandhar, said that they were expecting that the lockdown would be over by April 14. “We come to Jalandhar to sell shawls every year and go home by this month. However, due to lockdown, we are stuck and have nowhere to go,” he said.

Javid, another Kashmiri, has been a dry fruit and shawl business owner for the last 20 years in Hoshiarpur district said they were left with no option but to approach the government. “We also contacted National Conference leader Omar Abdullah and district administration officials but the final decision lies with the Union home ministry. The government should understand our plight and send us home ahead of Ramzan”, he added.

A fortnight ago, J&K Rajya Sabha MP Fayaz Ahmad Mir had demanded assistance for 20 Kashmiris stuck in Goraya town of Jalandhar. The Jalandhar district administration had then provided them with dry rations.

Mir also shared that since the lockdown, he has been flooded with calls from Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, where many Kashmiris are stuck.

The Rajya Sabha MP also pointed out that the Union home ministry had recently arranged 28 luxury buses for 1,800 people of Ahmedabad who were stranded at Haridwar in Uttarakhand. “Why not provide assistance to Kashmiris too?” he asked.

Mir Fayaz said that he was reaching out to Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh and Governor VP Singh Badnore for assistance. “The Centre should also address this issue on humanitarian grounds,” he added.

Meanwhile, the Kupwara district administration has started a help desk for Kashmiris stranded in different states of the country.

“Till date, as many as 420 calls were made by Kashmiris and it came to light that 10,000 people were stuck in Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Assam, Delhi and other states. Most Kashmiris are in Punjab and Himachal Pradesh,” said an official of the administration, Abdul Ghani.

Kusum Arora is an independent journalist.