News

Waiting for the phone in Kashmir: Of
calibrated conversations, long queues and tears

2019-08-13

PTI

Srinagar, Aug 13 : Two hours in the queue and just about two minutes on the phone. That's the new equation many Kashmiris are dealing with as they line up outside the Deputy Commissioner's office here, waiting anxiously for their turn to speak to their families and others outside the Valley.

There is so much to tell and so many urgent messages to convey in a conversation that has to be carefully calibrated. And sometimes, as the words tumble out hastily, the two, maybe three, minutes just don't seem enough.

There has been a virtual communications blackout in the Valley since the early hours of August 5, when the Centre announced that  Jammu and Kashmir's special status under Article 370 was being revoked and proposed that the state be split into two union territories.  N ews channels have also been discontinued on cable networks.

After more than eight days of no phones and no internet connections, the desperation is rising.

Marufa Bhat finally gets her turn at a phone after two hours of waiting to speak on a phone line provided by government at Deputy Commissioner's office for the public.

But, overcome with tears and overwhelmed by circumstances, she can barely manage to speak to her sister in Delhi.

"Hello, are you fine," is all she can say before she breaks down.

“My father recently underwent a coronary heart bypass surgery in Delhi. We returned recently and now the medicines are running out. That is why I had to reach out to my sister in Delhi,” said Bhat, holding her one-year-old-son.

Deaths in the family, business transactions and exams... the reasons for getting hold of the phone are urgent and many.

The conversations usually begin in chaste Kashmiri with callers ever mindful of the many others behind them waiting their turn.

Mohammed Ashraf collapses in tears after a  call to his son Hamas and relatives gather around him to offer water. Hamas' grandfather died five days ago and Tuesday was the earliest Ashraf could convey the news to him.

Kashmir Valley, according to government estimates, has a mobile penetration of around 87 per cent.

As the curfew-like situation in the Valley enters its ninth day, people here are readying for the long haul.

Mobiles would keep the youth busy, said Liaquat Shah, a trader waiting to call his wholesaler in Ludhiana to stop the supply of leather goods as conditions in the state are not conducive at the moment. They would surf the internet and learn about what's happening in the world, he added.

Security officials said communication links had to be snapped as a preventive measure.

“This became a tool for spreading all kinds of rumours and misreporting of incidents. Recently, an international channel reported that firing took place last Friday in outskirts of the city. No bullet was fired. Had mobiles been there, this kind of misreporting would have set other parts of the Valley on fire,” said a senior police officer on condition of anonymity.

However, there is grudging admission among some officials that phone lines have paralysed life and many people are suffering.

The state administration on Sunday said 300 public booths have been started but people said they are unaware.

“Where are they?” asked Arsalaan Wani, who wanted to tell his uncle in Chandigarh to fill his National Eligibility Test form.

“I get dreams about my mobile phone ringing,” he said.

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