Published On: Fri, Feb 3rd, 2017

The Other Victims

While the summer unrest of 2016 caused massive economic losses to people from all spheres of life, the transporter community of the valley had to bear the brunt of the situation. With banks unrelenting on the issue of loans, the community has been caught between the devil and the deep sea.

A local passenger vehicle in Kashmir. Pic credit: Basit Zargar

Belonging to a lower middle-class family, Showkat Ahmad Khan (name changed), 27, an Arts graduate, drives a passenger taxi for a living. He has a family of six, including his aged father, an asthma patient, and an aged mother, who is suffering from diabetes.

“I can’t afford to live through another agitation,” he says.

Showkat has been in this profession for last five years. He applied for a car loan in 2013 from a bank and has so far been able to pay only 50 percent of the loan amount, including the interest.

The 2016 uprising has impacted him greatly. He received a phone call from the bank in the month of September, intimating him that his interest amount is mounting and that if he doesn’t pay the EMIs, the bank would debit the amount from his guarantors.

It anguished him more that one of his guarantors was his brother-in-law and the other was a driver friend sailing in the same boat. “I was shocked,” he said.

Showkat went to the house of the bank manager who couldn’t offer him any respite and told him that he was bound by rules. He was told a similar story of rules and regulations by the bank’s higher authorities.

Only a day had passed after meeting the manager that he received a phone call from his brother-in-law who told him that his account has been debited by Rs 10,000.

“In the evening, my sister called me. She spoke in a completely different tone which left me in tears. I had only one option left, to borrow the amount from some friend or repay it to my brother-in-law,” he said.

His friends denied any assistance as the conditions to lend were hostile to everyone in the unrest and the usurers were charging heavy interest. “I went to a usurer in the town who, after having my signatures on every bond paper, lend me Rs 10,000. He charged an interest of Rs 3000 per month on the borrowed money,” he said.

Khan gave the money to his brother-in-law and heaved a sigh of relief. He was relieved because the issue could have resulted in marital discord between his sister and brother-in-law which could have impacted his family.

“We had to bear the heavy brunt of the unrest. We have got our vehicles on loans charged with heavy interest rates. Besides, banks are not our relatives who would help us any way. It’s been only fourteen days that we have started ferrying passengers. The losses suffered during the unrest cannot be compensated,” said Khan.

“We have never been against the uprising but the condition sometimes becomes beyond our level of tolerance. Nobody comes to our rescue. We too want a solution to the Kashmir problem and would not let our children see what we have been witnessing,” he added.

The Hurriyat had come up with a protest program during the uprising with a resolution to the problems of aggrieved transporters. They had asked mohalla committees to pool donations for the community.

“But the response was very poor and the problem remained as such,” said Tanvir Ahmad (name changed), 25, who drives a Tata Maximo from Anantnag to adjoining villages in order to make a living.

Tanvir says he purchased the passenger vehicle by obtaining the loan on a heavy interest rate and the 2016 uprising impacted him badly. “I paid Rs 25,000 to my guarantors whose accounts were debited by the bank during the months of the uprising. Fortunately, my guarantors did not compel me to repay the amount during the uprising and always encouraged me to pay whenever I could. But the bank led a crusade against me in September for payment of my EMIs and deducted the same amount from the bank accounts of my guarantors,” he said.

Tanvir is not much educated but he told Kashmir Scan that people in Kashmir always lack strategy and everything begins and ends spontaneously. “How can we target the top Hurriyat leaders and hold them responsible when we forget our responsibility,” he said.

Hundreds of vehicles were targeted during the uprising, both by the agitators and security forces. Even the vehicles carrying the injured were not spared. During relaxation hours, a single stone thrown at security forces resulted in smashing of windshields of vehicles, both private and public. The public transport was the worst hit.

“I had a patient in my vehicle who was being shifted to SMHS Srinagar from district hospital Anantnag. When we reached Bijbehara, many stones were pelted at my Tata Sumo, resulting in damage to the windshield. When we reached Pampore, the security forces stopped us and without asking anything slapped me for not carrying curfew pass”, said Bashir Ahmad Bhat, a Sumo driver.

“I felt like we are the only one chosen to be played with. Neither have we been spared by agitators nor security forces”, he said gloomily.

In Srinagar and elsewhere, service stations are full of vehicles damaged by stones or batons. Many have been torched by agitators as well as security forces; their glasses smashed, bodies dented.

“The insurance companies are not accepting our claims easily. They are asking for documents one after other. And many times our claims are sent to trash bins,” said Mohammad Jabbar, a truck driver. “You can see my truck without windshield and side glasses. All of them were broken during the agitation. I have decided not to replace them unless I am satisfied that the situation won’t go berserk again”, he said.

Names have been changed to protect the identity of the sources. 

 

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Sheikh Mudasir Amin

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