At a time, when silence, separation, and oppression became the norm for Kashmiris living under a communication blockade, with not even a working landline connection for over two months now, a young boy, Zahid’s name, has been on everybody’s lips, in Jammu and Kashmir’s Kupwara.
Zahid, a 22-year-old, emerged as a messiah of love and affection, walking several miles daily to bridge the communication blockade through his lone Airtel postpaid sim, in the Harie area, some 20 kilometers away from Kupwara. This is the only cellular network that has an incoming call facility, that too only in Kupwara district.
So, these days, Zahid has been facilitating some 100 phone calls every day, fixing a particular time for natives in Kupwara to talk to their loved ones who had been living under anxiety. Zahid reaches out to people and informs them well in advance to remain at home so they can to talk to their children, family, and friends outside the Valley.
Zahid said that one day, he received a call from his cousin, who was studying in Delhi. “I got my first call from my cousin. During our conversation, I suggested that he post my phone number on Facebook so that fellow Kashmiris outside the Valley would be able to talk to their families back home. The idea clicked, and now I am able to bring a smile to the faces of many in Kupwara,” he said, adding that he also writes down the messages of people and conveys the same to their parents as well.
Talking about the phone calls and messages, Zahid said that most calls to students were confined to their well-being, upcoming exams, fees, and monthly expenses. “Now, people in the area know that if I was visiting their locality, I am bringing a message from their loved ones. I feel content when people smile with tears rolling down their cheeks after hearing the messages of their loved ones, and vice versa“, he shared.
Later, Zahid said they discovered that some more people also have postpaid mobile phones in nearby villages. “We approached these people and discovered other Airtel postpaid numbers. We collected their numbers and shared it with the students hailing from different villages. So, these days, we manage phone calls for three villages and help in connecting people,” he added.
Shariq Ahmad, a student studying in UP’s Meerut said, “I called Zahid and fixed a particular day, and around evening when everyone was home, I called on his mobile number, and it was after 56 days that I was able to speak to my family”, he recounted.
In the absence of phone or internet connectivity, people in the Valley have been badly affected. Musaib, a resident of Kupwara who was studying in a college in Rajasthan said, “I spoke to my parents recently and got to know that my cousin sister got married on August 18 and 19. As there was no phone connectivity, neither my parents could inform me about the wedding nor I could attend. I felt helpless.”
It is worth mentioning here that the landline facility was also not available in the upper reaches of this far-flung district. The government also banned ‘WLL‘, the Wireless Local Loop, which was a service available through wireless connection but was similar to a landline connection.
“After the Central Government’s assurances, when we came to know that landline facilities are being restored in the Valley we went to the BSNL office in Kupwara to apply for a WLL, as we don’t have landline facilities here. But, we were not even allowed to buy a WLL connection. The government has apparently banned it now. We were also informed that the government has given strict orders not to give new WLL connections,” said Junaid Ahmad, a resident.
Though the government, on August 30, stated that the mobile services in Kupwara district would be restored, later, people came to know that it was only Airtel postpaid’s incoming call services which were restarted.
Ironically, only one or two people in a village usually have a postpaid service, and so, it was very difficult for people to talk to their children and family members outside Kashmir.
Ever since the Central Government abrogated Article 370 and stripped Jammu and Kashmir of its special status, Kashmiris have been living under a communication blockade, with no access to a functioning landline connection.