Shopian: The tarpaulin-covered trucks were ringed by gun-wielding personnel from government security forces on a patch of wasteland in the southern Kashmir district of Shopian. Weary after a long journey, the drivers squatted as the security forces watched the tarmac road from a sand-bag bunker.
Close to the metal bridge at Balpora in Shopian that leads to the town’s main fruit market and the vast apple orchards, a truck was burned down by militants just a few days ago. The truck driver died in the incident. Only a few kilometres away from the site, on Wednesday evening, militants killed another non-local while leaving another injured during an attack at the Trenz area in Shopian.
The truck drivers, from the different parts of India, remained huddled around their trucks at Balpora and in the fruit market at Shopian as security forces have restricted them from driving into the villages to load apples into their trucks and ship them outside the state. Security checks have been beefed up on the road after the Wednesday’s militant attack.
Multiple attacks on non-locals have been reported amid a chaotic situation in Kashmir since 5 August when the Central Government revoked Article 370 of the Constitution of India and imposed heavy restrictions on movement and communication as a precautionary measure. Though the government has eased several of the security restrictions in parts of Kashmir, including restoring postpaid mobile services earlier this week, the situation continues to remain grim in the state.
The attacks on non-locals have come amid concerns expressed by the local Kashmiris that they will now have to compete for jobs with outsiders after the revocation of the special status of the state. The attacks were also carried out in the backdrop of the opposition by several separatist organisations to the settlement of non-locals in Kashmir, which they have argued could change the demographic profile of the state and tilt the “vote in favour of India” in the event of a plebiscite on Kashmir. Due to the revocation of Article 370, non-residents can now buy land and property in Kashmir.
The attacks have also proven to be a setback for the efforts of the government to stabilise the situation in Kashmir. The state government had earlier ran advertisements in local newspapers asking the people to lift the shutdown. However, nearly two-and-half month after the controversial decision, attendance in government offices have remained thin. Most shops continue to remain shut while public transport remains off the roads.
Several truck drivers said that they were misled by television reports and the government claims into believing that the situation in Kashmir was normal.
Sukhdev Nath, a truck driver from Haryana who wore a dishevelled look and smeared clothes, said that after the recent militant attack on non-locals, he would prefer not to come to Srinagar again. "We are scared after the militant attack. I have been travelling to Kashmir for the last two years, but the situation has never been so tense. I couldn’t get any food as shops remain shut here,” he said.
At the Shopian fruit market and in Balpora, several non-local drivers said that they could not load their trucks with fruit boxes due to the non-availability of local transport to carry the produce from the orchards. "We are not allowed by the security forces to travel into the villages after the militant attack," said 22-year-old Raman, a trucker from Uttar Pradesh.
He said that he was uncertain whether he would be able to transport the fruits to a market in Uttar Pradesh after security forces due to the recent restrictions on the movement of non-local truckers. "I have been waiting for several days at Balpora to receive the orders from the local dealer,” he said.
Hundreds of drivers have travelled to Kashmir after they got in touch with local transporters following the resumption of landline services and postpaid mobile services. But they have been confronted with difficulties in getting apple consignments due to skeletal presence of local transport services in the Valley.
A government scheme to purchase apples from the growers in Kashmir has also been met with a dull response from Kashmiris.
A local fruit grower, Adnan Qayoom, said that the security forces didn’t allow him to carry a truck driven by an outsider from the Shopian fruit market to Kunsoo, which lied only a few kilometres away. “We trade in apples and there are some 1,400 boxes of apple that we couldn’t transport to the Shopian fruit market,” he said.
In both the Shopian and Pulwama districts, security has been beefed up after the recent attacks on non-locals. At several places in Shopian, posters had been plastered by the police claiming that two militants Raheel Magray and Syed Naveed Mushtaq were responsible for the recent attacks on non-locals truck drivers.
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Updated Date: Oct 18, 2019 21:02:01 IST