Nightmare on highway as draconian ban begins

Nightmare on highway as draconian ban begins
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Tourists also stranded; on-duty magistrates missing from spot; pleas to allow passage fall on deaf ears; ‘cruelty on part of government,’ says cab driver who couldn’t reach ailing mother at home

Srinagar: Tourists as much as locals had a harrowing day on Sunday as government forces enforced the ban on civilian traffic between Baramulla and Udhampur on the national highway.
The ban ordered last week on civilian traffic, every Sunday and Wednesday till May 31, to allow “smooth” movement of armed forces’ convoys, led to commuters getting stranded for hours as they pleaded helplessly before policemen, paramilitary troops, and on-duty magistrates for passage, which was curtly denied.
“It is cruelty on part of the government,” said Mushtaq Ahmad, a cab driver who was stopped by army personnel at Peaks Auto crossing near Nowgam.
Ahmad said he pleaded before them for more than an hour, but in vain.
“My mother is ailing at home. There is nobody to look after her. I am worried for her well-being as she is looking for me,” he told Kashmir Reader at the crossing where he was stuck.
A large contingent of government forces was deployed on the 300-km highway to impose the ban on civilian traffic. The road appeared deserted except for the large number of forces’ personnel manning intersections where link roads joined the main highway. All civilian traffic was stopped at barricades made by laying spools of razor wire across roads.

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Passengers who came by flights to Srinagar airport were also stopped at different roads on way to their destinations. A tourist from West Bengal, Piyali Adhikari, said her family faced a distressing situation on the highway after they were stopped by government forces at three different places while trying to go to Pahalgam.
“First our flight got delayed for two hours, then this restriction on the highway made our trip a nightmare. If we continue to face this situation in Kashmir, we may have to cancel our trip,” she said.
Piyali said her family, comprising her husband, mother-in-law, and two children, had planned a ten-day Kashmir trip a month ago. She said a travel agent informed them about the highway closure and assured that officials will facilitate their smooth journey.
“We have been waiting for the on-duty magistrate for the last one hour, but he is nowhere to be seen. It shows how serious the government is,” she said.
Similarly, many distraught people on way to attend funerals were seen urging policemen and army soldiers for permission, while magistrates were missing.
Gurcharan Singh of Budgam and his mother were waiting for the magistrate for several hours at Peaks Auto crossing to get permission to reach Anantnag, to attend the funeral of his aunt. They attempted to move without permission but were turned back at Pampore.
“My aunt’s last rites got delayed due to the highway closure. We were not allowed to move. This is sheer injustice and official harassment,” he said.
Hundreds of students from south Kashmir districts who had to appear in different competitive exams on Sunday were also stranded at Pantha Chowk and Bemina crossing. They couldn’t get a vehicle to reach the railway station to catch the train.
Some of the students started their journey on foot and had to walk several miles before they reached the railway station.
Basit Mushtaq of Anantnag said he had to walk nearly 5 kilometers before he reached his examination centre.
“I couldn’t concentrate on the exam as I was dead tired. I walked several miles because there was no vehicle plying on the highway,” he told Kashmir Reader.
The National Conference and the Peoples Democratic Party meanwhile held separate protests on the highway against the ban. PDP president and former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti travelled on the highway along with her supporters to defy the ban.
Talking to reporters, she said that the PDP will fight the ban order in court. “People are facing huge inconvenience due to the ban. It is unacceptable as Kashmiris have to seek permission to travel on their own roads. We are not living in Palestine that Israel will ban our movement,” she said.
NC president Farooq Abdullah also protested on the highway. “This ban is dictatorial,” he said.
The ban also drew outrage on social media with several people sharing photos of the blockaded highway. Many drew comparison of the ban order with the Nazi government’s forbidding of Jews from using pathways and streets in Poland from 9pm to 5am in 1939. They juxtaposed the two ban orders and the image went viral on social media platforms.
In Baramulla, people were seen walking to the district hospital and other places. However, some private vehicles were seen plying on the link roads.
Witnesses said that authorities had deployed hundreds of troops on the highway to stop private and public vehicles. They said that army soldiers were guarding army convoys throughout the day on the highway.
Some people who were scheduled to go to Srinagar chose other roads like Sopore-Bandipora and via Sonawari to reach the city.
People from Pattan area said that there was no civilian traffic on the highway but some private vehicles were plying on the link roads and sometimes on the highway for a short distance.