Kashmiri taxi drivers suffer losses as passengers avoid troubled route

Sana Fazili
Srinagar: The recent attack on Kashmiri truckers has triggered a wave of fear among drivers plying on the Jammu-Srinagar highway. The attack has led to a slump in the number of passengers taking the route, and caused financial losses to taxi drivers too.
“Earlier, at least 10 vehicles used to take passengers to Jammu each day. But after the attack on drivers in Udhampur, no more than three vehicles leave the taxi stand to go to Jammu,” says Bilal Ahmed, President of the tourist taxi stand, Tourist Reception (TRC).
The few vehicles taking passengers to Jammu now use the Mughal Road, covering a distance of 354 kilometers, adding at least 50 kilometers to the distance between the two cities. “We have now asked drivers to take the Mughal road. It is safer, though the distance is longer. And we cannot charge our customers extra fare for no fault of theirs,” Bilal Ahmed adds.
Most taxis remain parked all day at the TRC, with drivers hoping for passengers. They blame the PDP-BJP regime for not securing their livelihood. “We had hopes that the PDP would take steps to elevate tourism. We even voted for them. But things are turning uglier each day,” says Ghulam Qadir Sheikh, General Secretary of the tourist taxi stand drivers’ association.
The Udhampur attack has added to their grievances: the year 2015 anyway saw a decreased tourist inflow. “This was the peak season. The taxi stand used to be abuzz with taxis ferrying passengers to Jammu. But now it is quiet,” says Noor Mohammad one of the drivers.
The drivers are demanding that the police take measures for their safety. They allege the police did nothing to stop the attack on truck drivers in Udhampur. “Vehicles have been damaged earlier, but drivers never faced such brutality. The police could have prevented this,” says Ghulam Qadir. “We don’t know who has carried out these attacks. All we can conclude is that the aim of the attackers is to cause a loss to our economy,” Bilal Ahmed adds.
The families of the drivers are worried about their safety, but they don’t have too many choices. “This is our livelihood. We have to risk our lives for it. The loan we have taken to buy the taxis must be returned. We have to earn for our families,” says Fayaz Ahmed, another driver, as he loads luggage onto his taxi to travel to Jammu via the Mughal Road.