SRINAGAR: Feroz Ahmed Waja, a 40-year-old bus driver who lives in old Srinagar’s Shamsawari area, is cleaning his minibus on the roadside outside his home. The window sills and headlamps of the bus are broken. The tyres are flat. Waja says that the engine has started to corrode now. The bus has been standing rooted at its spot for the past two-and-a-half months.
Ever since the post-Burhan uprising started in Kashmir, Waja says he has forgotten when was the last time he drove his bus. But he is not worried. “I am ready to give my share for Kashmir,” he says.
Ghulam Nabi is another bus driver from the old city. He has been driving passenger buses since 1980 on Kashmir roads. “I have seen the ’90s, the 2008 uprising and the 2010 uprising. But this time it is straight: no negotiations, only Azadi (freedom),” the 60-year-old said.
There is also Riyaz Ahmed Bangroo, 45, who lives in the city’s outskirts. He said that despite incurring huge losses, he would not “surrender”.
“No doubt we are not earning anything. We are incurring losses. But this time we are with the joint resistance group’s protest programme,” said Riyaz.
Umer, 27, a driver from Khanyar locality, said, “Our society has come to our rescue. Well-off people have been helping us monetarily. There are also contributions from mohalla people, who lend us money without interest. We know we have to return it but we want solution this time, once for all.”
Umer said that “in the 2008 and 2010 uprisings, when protests happened mostly in Srinagar, we would go to rural areas and earn our livelihood. But this time it is a rural uprising, and every Kashmiri is ready for his share of sacrifice. We are doing our bit.”
Waja said that most drivers earned between 300 and 500 rupees a day. “These days we earn nothing, but our resolve is firm. Our buses stand parked on roads and government forces often vent their anger by breaking their window glasses,” Waja said.
There are also the out-of-work bus conductors. One among them is Zameer Khan, 34, who lives in Fateh Kadal. “With help of my neighbours and the conductor fraternity, I have been able to sustain my family. No doubt it has been difficult, but it is nothing before the sacrifices being made by those who have given up their lives. We will continue our struggle until we achieve our cause,” he said.
General Secretary of the Kashmir Transporters and Welfare Association, Sheikh Yousuf, told Kashmir Reader that according to statistics available with him, “there are 1800 minibuses under five different groups and 1,000 large buses plying in Srinagar alone. There are also 25,000 Sumo taxis on the roads of Kashmir.”
On an average, Yousuf said, there is a monthly tax of 2,500 rupees and bank interest on loans ranges from Rs 2,000 to Rs 2,500 every month. “We provided Rs 10,000 as monthly salary to the drivers and conductors who are permanent members of associations. The worst sufferers are casual drivers and conductors,” Yousuf said.
“We try to provide 50% compensation for glass breakage. But that is too little at this time,” Yousuf said. “They are ready to incur losses but there needs to be a solution now.”