Deployed in Valley under lockdown, central forces too wait to call home

Muzamil Jaleel
Prohibitory orders were relaxed, but the security lockdown continued in Srinagar on Monday. (Express Photo: Shuaib Masoodi)

The communication blockade in Kashmir, with cellphones, Internet and landline connections still obstructed for the eighth day on Monday, has also left thousands of men of the central forces unable to contact their families.

At Zero Bridge checkpoint in Srinagar, two CRPF men, standing next to the concertina wire blocking the road, say they last spoke to their families on August 4. There is no way to communicate with our families. It has been a week now, says a CRPF man who does not want to be identified.

A few hundred metres ahead, a CRPF man from UP is sitting on a bench, talking to three local children. It has been tiring, he says. I have tried everything. I have been asking everyone if there is a way to make a phone call home, he says. We have been out since 5 am, standing here. By the time we go back to the camp, it will be evening. There aren t any phones working. Everybody (in the camp) has the same complaint. There is no way to contact home, he says.

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A policeman from the local police station is with him. He says that he and his colleagues are also unable to contact their families. Those of us who are living in the city too haven t been able to go home. We have no idea what is happening at home, he says.

At Kothi Bagh, a 42-year-old CRPF man from Tamil Nadu says he hasn t been able to talk to his family since August 5, when mobile and landline services were blocked across the Valley. I would talk to my children and wife daily… I have no information about my family because I haven t called home all these days. They must be worried about my safety, after seeing the news that curfew is in place in Kashmir. I hope communication starts soon and I can call them and inform that I am safe, he says.

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At Regal Chowk, a CRPF man says he hasn t spoken to his family for a week now. I came in April, and was in regular touch with my family. Now, phones are not working, and, like everyone else in Kashmir, I am also not able to contact my family. I am missing my two sons… for the first time, I have not been able to talk to them for such a long period. My wife must be worried, he says.

At the Tourist Reception Centre, a CRPF man says: This is my first posting in Kashmir. During the last one month, I was in regular touch with my family. On August 5, when my phone stopped working, I was surprised because I have never seen such a situation, he says. I heard text messages were working on a colleague s cellphone… I was able to send a message, saying that I am safe and will call soon. But I don t know whether my brother received that message. Let s hope that phone services are started soon, and then I can talk to my family again, he says.

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The government had brought satellite phones for its use, but soon found that they weren t working. Subsequently, the cellphone companies, especially the government-owned BSNL, were asked to de-block a select number of phones. So the cellphones of top brass of the civil and police administration, senior officers of the central forces, officials of essential services departments like health, water and power supply were allowed to run.

In Srinagar, a senior police officer says the SSB men guarding his residence knocked on his door and requested him to allow them to use his phone. One of them was desperate. There was some situation at his home and he wanted to contact them urgently, he says. I gave him the phone. Soon, all the men guarding the place assembled and, one by one, they called up their homes. They were relieved.

There are many issues in every family. We too have families, says the SSB man, who hails from Assam. Everybody, including our families, knows that the situation here is precarious. We are also sons, brothers, fathers, husbands. Our loved ones too want to know how we are.