In Kashmir, times are tough, though travelling in this violence-hit region is tougher. This week on Tuesday, we left on a dicey track to ferry expecting mother from Baramulla to one of Srinagar’s private maternity hospital in a private car at the crack of dusk. As soon we set for the turbulence charged 60 kilometres travel, the anxiety and tensions were visible over the faces of my relatives knowing the potential danger along the 60 kilometres trouble-torn highway.
It was the time when the government forces were withdrawing from their respective beats after discharging their day long duty of maintaining eerie calm on the deserted roads.
Barely after few kilometres of travel was our first forcible halt near Khawajabagh proved harmless. Cops, who had blocked half of road, stopped the car checked it, inquired and allowed us to proceed.
Soon we reached a place where orchards and golden colour rice fields alongside the Muzafferabad-Srinagar highway were presenting the majestic view. It seemed, the dying rays of sun are stroking in every part of their energy to make the rice fields shine like gold.
In this golden beauty few hundred meters away, young masked boys hiding inside suddenly appeared and shouted us to stop.
Taking advantage of these fields, they have been fighting pitched battles with the forces during the day while hurling stones and rocks towards them. They enforce the shutdown over the call of joint resistance group and stop all passing vehicles. This is one of the hundreds of groups of youth across valley enforcing shutdown over the call of joint resistance group stressing for freedom or accession to Pakistan from India.
Those who refuse to stop or disobey their command are beaten and their cars and vehicles are damaged, stoned and sometimes burnt. It was Hygam village which have been tense since two months of ongoing unrest alongside the all other parts of valley and we faced the same angry crowd of youth.
Imagine a situation:
You are seated on front seat of car; a masked tall boy appears out of nowhere few meters away on the middle of road, in front of the car, aiming a stone at you.
Stop Imagining. This has happened with me.
The only thing you can do in this situation is to scream, “Ruko”, even when you know it will have no effect. He releases the stone with considerable force. Bang and the windshield of car is finish.
The driver stops the car with a raucous. In the matter of seconds, a group of youth hiding in orchids appear on highway with everything in their hands that can inflict serious injuries on a person.
The attempt to tell them the reason to travel by the driver remained futile till their leader (tallest of all) smashed the left headlight with cricket bat. Then this short conversation starts in Kashmiri:
Leader: “Bh!@#$%& , Ma!*$%#$%! Where are you going?
Driver: Jenab, Patient, Patie…………
Leader: Run Away, Ma!*$%#$%!,………….
The time when Driver was struggling to start the car one of them tried to test his strength. With all his energy, he stroked on the bonnet. Driver pressed the accelator to the fullest. The engine roared and we ran.
Nobody spoke for few minutes. It would have been the end for us all. Even for child who was in her mother’s womb and expecting to come in this world in few hours. Who saved our lives? Those angry protesters, God or our own good deeds. Many other thoughts followed in my mind.
The incident had such an effect on my mind that I was no longer concentrating on our journey. It was still haunting and the next nightmare begun. Though this time it was not harmful but a kind of test. Somewhere at Pattan group of boys stopped us. Their demand was unprecedented. They warned males to immediately disembark the car and chant slogans with them. I obliged and started at the top of my voice:
“Hum Kya Chahta,” the group responded: “Azadi”. Other slogans followed. However, my low tone did not impress them much but at least turned a reason for our safe passage without any damage except one that video of “forced protest” was recorded.
This has happened with all of co-travels for the first time. However, whenever I narrate this slogan story, the listeners have a heartily laugh. Nevertheless, those moments were very uncertain. You never know what they can do.
As we reached near Narbal, and entered Srinagar, it was already dark. Few vehicles were on road and it seemed relatively safe. To make it safer we just kept driving behind an Ambulance until we reached our destination in Tengpora on the National Highway.
Here we said goodbye to this dangerous phase of journey where the new life came into being. She will be named Aman (peace ).
Peace. Nevertheless, when?
The author is the journalism student at GDC Baramulla.