SRINAGAR – Locals, mostly Kashmiri women, flocked the Srinagar deputy commissioner’s (DC) office throughout Thursday in a frantic bid to call up their children staying outside Jammu and Kashmir after two telephone lines were opened for the public to make emergency outstation calls.
The authorities informed the locals about the restoration of telephone lines Wednesday night through announcements on TV channels and advertisements in newspapers, prompting them to make a beeline for the DC office near Srinagar’s Lal Chowk, reported The Print.
“We understand families want to get in touch with each other and that is why we have started the phone service. Anyone can come in to make the calls,” Srinagar DC Shahid Choudhary was quoted by ThePrint saying.
Locals were allowed to make the calls after telling the authorities who they were calling and what their conversation would be. The calls were mostly moderated and operators tried their best to limit the duration of the conversations to about a minute.
“My daughter was supposed to come this week but she hadn’t booked the tickets when communications were blocked. So we kept looking at our door all day to see if she had arrived. We were worried about how she was in Chandigarh or how she will manage to reach home from the airport amid the curfew,” said Fehmeeda, a resident of Hawal in Srinagar.
“Today, when we called her, she said she will be coming tomorrow. Can you believe that we were able to make the call just in time to know that she is coming? She was planning to come home on foot (from the airport). Now we can try to go to the airport to pick her up,” she said.
“My husband wanted to call my son in Bengaluru, but I told him that I will go as men are stopped at check points more than women. I walked from Jawahar Nagar and called my son. He wept at first but then I told him not to worry and take care of himself. I told him not to come home for Eid as the situation here is still tense,” said a woman who did not reveal her name but called herself “mouja aakh” — meaning “one of the many mothers”.
While these people could make calls, there were many others who could not reach the DC office within the designated time — between 10 am and 5 pm. Among them was Anjum from Rawalpora area of Srinagar.
She drove to the DC office after the restrictions were relaxed a little after 5 pm, hoping to be able to make a call.
“I have two daughters, one in Jammu and another in Delhi. One is doing her medical internship and another is a journalism student. I haven’t spoken to them since Sunday and they must be extremely worried. The officials here are not allowing me to go inside,” she said.
Asked if the officials will make an exception for late-comers, a paramilitary official posted at the DC office gate said, “Sir, there is no woman official who could do a body check of women wanting to make phone calls. I suggest they come tomorrow at 10 am.”
Another woman, who did not wish to be named, said her husband who works at the DC office could enter even after 5 pm but she wasn’t allowed to go inside as there was no woman security guard to frisk female visitors.
“I know the officials are doing their duty but we are here to call our children. They should have kept the phone lines open all day. Also, shouldn’t there be any provision to send money to our children? We have no idea how they are, and they too are not getting any news of us,” she said.
J&K has been under massive security crackdown since Sunday night in anticipation of violence after the Narendra Modi government announced its decision to do away with Article 370, which accorded special status to the erstwhile state. The government bifurcated the state into two union territories of Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh, with and without a legislature, respectively.