Why are the passenger vehicle drivers of Pulwama district scared nowadays? Why do they want to sell off their SUV vehicles used for ferrying people? Why are they feeling that they are caught between devil and deep sea?
As we continue to read news reports about this issue, the driver community of this area continues to be hounded by these questions. The simple and straight reason for this is, in the past few months, many instances have come to light where in, the drivers have been targeted by gunmen on the suspicion of ferrying Army men.
Javid Ahmad, a resident of Pulwama district has been driving a Sumo for the last 15 years on the Newa-Srinagar route. His vehicle was the sole source of income for his five-member family, which includes two dependent children and an old father.
Three months ago he bought a new vehicle on loan from the Jammu and Kashmir Bank. But, now he is compelled to sell off his newly purchased vehicle. “I want to sell my vehicle to set up a shop in my village,” Javid said.
This decision came in the backdrop of the death of a private passenger vehicle driver, Nazir Ahmad Sheikh, of Shopian’s Kachdora village. Nazir was killed on May 4, when suspected militants opened fire on his vehicle in which he was ferrying army personnel towards Imam Sahib area of Shopian. He was the third driver from Shopian to have been killed in this manner while ferrying Army men.
Javid said that an Army camp of Rashtriya Rifles situated in the vicinity of Newa had taken contact numbers of around 105 Sumo drivers of the area.
“We are frequently asked to ferry Army men to villages where they suspect militant presence. Every driver was bound to use his vehicle to carry Army men for a full night once in three months.”
Another Sumo driver Saiful Hassan said, “I survived a militant attack a couple of years ago but I will not be always lucky.” He said that a militant had jumped on top of his vehicle from a building where he was hiding when he was ferrying Army men to Kangan village that is close to Pulwama town.
“I was fortunate that the militant ran away quickly and was killed only a few meters away from my vehicle.” Saiful said that he would wish to switch over to some other profession than to face a double-edged sword.
Another Sumo driver on conditions of anonymity said that Army has started stopped hiring their vehicles for the last 25 days after some of the drivers were thrashed by unidentified gunmen.
A video of the drivers being beaten up was captured and shared on various social networking sites. The video features four young drivers from Pulwama area being thrashed by suspected militants. The drivers were seen pleading them to spare their life. “I promise that I would quit driving from today,” one of the drivers is seen saying.