Jammu: Thousand miles away from home, without job, shelter

Arun Sharma
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Traffic policemen distribute food among those stranded. (Express Photo)

A labourer from Chhattisgarh, Rajan Singh, 25, has made the verandah outside a closed shop in faraway Jammu his temporary shelter for the last nine days.

After celebrating Holi with his parents and children back at home, he arrived in Jammu by train on March 21. Instead of heading to his rented accommodation at Talab Tillo, nearly 10 km from Jammu railway station, he decided to wait on the platform for his wife, Sunita, who was to arrive on March 23.

That was not to be.

On march 22 came the public curfew, followed by the 21-day countrywide lockdown announced on March 24. After trains got suspended, the police started clearing the railway station area, and Rajan said he took refuge under the verandah of a closed shop nearby. Nine days on, he still waits for his wife, who is held up at Pathankot.

“We left Chhattisgarh for Jammu together, but I decided to drop her at my brother’s home (in Pathankot, just over a hundred km before Jammu),” he said, adding that Sunita is pregnant. “The moment trains start, she will come. Where she will find me if I am not at the railway station,’’ he asked. “We both go to our room at Talab Tillo together.” Rajan said he has not been able to speak with her for the last few days since he lost his cellphone while leaving the station premises in a melee in view of the lockdown.

Dwarka Nath, who comes from Doda, has been working at a local dhaba outside the railway station for the last nearly 10 years. The lockdown has left him without a job, and a shelter. Dwarka stayed at the dhaba at night, but with the eatery closed following the administration’s orders, he has nowhere to go. “Other workers live nearby and went home. I had to move to the market nearby, as public transport to Doda was suspended,” he said.

There are many others with similar tales who, at present, are staying in the market near the station. Unable to go anywhere, many are looking for Railways to resume operations so that they can return to their native places, anywhere between 1,500 and 2,000 km away.

To help such people, Jammu and Kashmir Police has started distributing food packets across Jammu. To carry out the work, the police have formed different teams led by local SHOs, who, besides distributing food packets among the stranded, are also ensuring home delivery of essential commodities to local residents at many places, police officers said. This is apart from various local NGOs, shopkeepers’ associations and gurdwaras who have stepped in to provide food and water to people in distress so that they continue to stay where they are.

Rajan said local Sikhs from a nearby gurdwara provide them breakfast, while some local shopkeepers organise lunch. Some NGOs are providing them dinner, Dwarka Nath said.

The Vaishno Devi Shrine Board distributed ration kits among slum-dwellers and stranded workers in Katra town on Sunday. The Shrine Board’s staff and gazetted officers have donated a day’s and two days’ salaries, respectively, to J&K Relief Fund.

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