J&K State Disaster Management Authority (SDMA) on Sunday appealed public not to board a public vehicle that is already full to capacity. In a handout issued here, SDMA has appealed public in general and passengers, in particular, instead of boarding a vehicle that is already full to capacity, should wait for the next bus or taxi. The official communiqué further informs that if a person sees any vehicle overloaded, he should immediately report the matter, either by calling or sending the picture with all the necessary details on designated numbers. The SDMA assures that stringent action will be taken against the defaulter and your identity will be kept confidential. The call for not travelling in overloaded vehicles comes in the wake of increasing road accidents across the state. It is quite a welcome step but the concerning part is that the people in authority have awakened to this acute problem very late. It is a public matter that the Officials from the department of traffic police and traffic control may have claimed their concern for traffic rules and travel safety norms but when it comes to the ubiquitous practice of overloading the buses with passengers, it seems they are least bothered. Overloading is a normal practice in the state. Stuffed in the buses like chickens in a poultry farm, passengers are also foisted to stand in the window and are generally seen hanging half in the air. On top of that, when there is no room at all, some don’t mind climbing the rooftop, throwing caution for safety to the wind. All this happens right under the nose of police and traffic officials. Most of the times, the people meant to implement traffic rules do rarely stop such vehicles. When making a fast buck gains precedence over human life, accidents are only a matter of time. Overloaded buses and trekkers have triggered many an ugly mishap on city roads, but drivers refuse to learn their lesson even the hard way.
Inspector General of Police for Traffic, Basant Rath, is an acclaimed police officer who initially seemed to be quite enthusiastic in bringing in discipline in the traffic management. He would be seen managing and monitoring traffic at crucial junctures and congested places personally. But with the passage of time, he too seems to have lost the steam now. Though there has been substantial improvement in overall traffic system with not-so-frequent traffic jams on the city roads. However, the issue of overloading is still there. Overloading is not restricted to buses and mini buses only even light vehicles like Sumo taxi drivers do indulge in this ill practice. A Sumo taxis is passed for seven passengers including the driver. But one sees a minimum of 11 passengers in a Sumo taxi. There is no check and control on these drivers. Over the years, the state government has been seemingly quite magnanimous in meeting the demands of transporters for fare hike from to time but that has little lessened their greed. Every time ahead of fare hike we are told that the transporters would have to improve facilities like proper seating, availability of public transport on all inhabited routes and above all assure that no overloading takes place. This, however, has proved a mere ritual statement as the condition of passenger vehicles worsens with each hike in fare. For overloading, the passengers too are responsible. If buses have no vacant seats, why to board them. Can’t they wait for the next bus? Whatever the causes, the overall traffic system is in quite mess. Until the traffic police is not serious about this issue, the system will never improve. IG traffic Basant Rath needs to pull up his socks again. Instead of indulging in debates and discussions with the passers-by in the streets, he needs to recharge his men to infuse the much-needed discipline on the roads.
The highway in Kashmir is not just a road these days. It is a statement, a very strong statement that tells the people that they are dominated 24×7. A statement that rings in your ears, reminding you that you may live here but the place isn’t yours. The highway is also a proof of the Kashmir imbroglio at its worst these days. You reside along the highway, you need a permission to cross it. You need to drive to a hospital and use the highway, you need to ask a magistrate first. You dare question the men in uniform, you end up beaten and humiliated, not matter who you are. On Tuesday, the Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM) of Dooru in Anantnag, who’s supposed to permit civilians to use the road, was himself beaten black and blue by army personnel manning the highway. Ironically, the Magistrate was facilitating India’s ‘democracy’ in Kashmir. He was on election duty and also heading towards Qazigund to resolve the matter of traffic congestion on the highway in the morning. The Magistrate and his subordinates, who, as per his written statement, were travelling in a government vehicle, were stopped at Dalwach crossing by the army men ordering them to halt till the convoy passed. The magistrate complied. But for no reason, his driver was dragged out and beaten by the armed personnel. When the magistrate tried to intervene, telling the men in camouflage that he was an SDM and was called in by the District Magistrate Anantnag, who, as per the statement was waiting for him at Vessu, he was picked up by collar, abused and dragged, and then thrashed on gunpoint. The officials, as per the SDM’s statement, were held on gunpoint, their vehicle and other belongings, including their phones and election-related material, were searched and damaged. As if that wasn’t enough humiliation, the officials were then held hostage for about half an hour, during which the army personnel removed the safety locks of their weapons, aimed guns at them and threatened to kill them. It was only after the Deputy Commissioner Anantnag reached the spot that the SDM and other officials were set free. Imagine what a commoner would be facing if a magistrate goes through such disgrace and ordeal! The government forces in Kashmir are not concerned about who, or in what state, you are. You can be a busy government official, who needs to reach some place of importance, you can be a patient in an ambulance, who needs immediate medical care, you can be anyone but for the gun-wielding troopers, you are the same. They treat you as cannon fodder, lesser human beings, who can be jack-booted on the might of laws like AFSPA. The claim is not rhetorical. Only last Wednesday, an ambulance ferrying a cancer patient, was stopped on the highway to let the convoys pass through. The man eventually died. A video of the incident when the ambulance was stopped had gone viral on social media. A person can be seen telling the paramilitary trooper that they were carrying a patient, but the trooper does not allow him to pass through until the long, serpentine convoy clears. Another video that had gone viral on social media shows a young lad being choked down by an armed trooper. Apparently, the incident happened on the Sanat Nagar highway intersection in Srinagar. The youth literally has a fight with the armed forces, who pounced upon him, thrashing him with their long, wooden batons. All these incidents carry a clear message for the people of Kashmir: that the oppressors will treat you as second-class citizens in your own homeland, and they will do so with impunity. Still for the sake of argument and the fact that we believe in the near-hollow image of whatever little freedom is left in this place, the Governor of Jammu and Kashmir, Satya Pal Malik is expected to use his office and establish some sanity on the ground. How do you expect to conduct elections, an exercise of democracy, in a place where the electorate is suppressed with muscle power? Mr Governor, it is time to do something even if that means just a face-saving act for you.
Speaking Truth to Power
The people who are either in power or with wealth and influence like to be followed or obeyed and usually don’t like detractors challenging their wrong views or opinions. Speaking truth to power is not easy and requires moral courage and deep conviction. Thus, it is not difficult to see the rarity of such a trait in today’s human beings who seem to be motivated more by material gains than what’s morally right and just.
The religion of Islam puts great emphasis on upholding truth and justice under all circumstances, even against one’s loved ones. Let me share below some relevant verses of the Qur’an:“O ye who believe! Be ye staunch in justice, witnesses for Allah, even though it be against yourselves or (your) parents or (your) kindred, whether (the case be of) a rich man or a poor man, for Allah is nearer unto both (them ye are). So follow not passion lest ye lapse (from truth) and if ye lapse or fall away, then lo! Allah is ever Informed of what ye do.” –(4:135)
“O ye who believe! Be steadfast witnesses for Allah in equity and let not hatred of any people seduce you that ye deal not justly. Deal justly, that is nearer to your duty. Observe your duty to Allah. Lo! Allah is informed of what ye do.” –(5:8)
Prophet Muhammad said, “Speak the truth even when it is bitter.” He also said, “No man can attain a firm faith, unless he developed strength of character and that cannot be achieved unless one acquires the habit of speaking the truth.” He said, “By Allah, you must enjoin good and forbid evil, and hold the hand of aggressors to persuade them to act justly and make them steadfast on truth, failing which Allah will punish you along with others (i.e., wrong doers) and you will be cursed like the Bani Israel.”
Caliph Umar famously said to a congregation of Muslims gathered in a mosque near Jerusalem, “… And speak the truth. Do not hesitate to say what you consider to be the truth. Say what you feel. Let your conscience be your guide. Let your intentions be good, for verily God is aware of your intentions. In your deeds your intentions count. Fear God, and fear no one else.”
It is not difficult to understand how and why the Qur’anic commandments and Islamic teachings had emboldened many Muslims throughout the Islamic history, dating from the time of the first call of pure monotheism to more contemporary times, to dare to speak the truth. When Prophet preached pure monotheism amongst the pagan Arabs of his time, he and his followers) faced much resistance from the leaders of the community. Islam was a new faith amongst the Arabs of the 7th century C.E. that challenged the old order – customs, traditions, rules and regulations, requiring uncompromising belief in an unseen God – Allah. It challenged the Makkan aristocracy. It required the believer to change his/her lifestyle so that he/she won’t lie, deceive, gamble, intoxicate, kill, murder, steal, fornicate, commit female infanticide, etc. It required fasting (without food and water) from dawn to dusk, during the entire month of Ramadan, a task which was very difficult in unusually hot summer days of Arabia. It required praying five times daily to remind the believer of his/her servitude to Allah and accountability of his/her deeds – good and bad, large and small. It demanded paying the poor-due (zakat) and making regular charity (sadaqah), feeding the indigent and relieving pains and sufferings of fellow creatures – acts that are against innate human attitude towards wealth and possession. It advocated freeing of slaves. It demanded fair treatment of all – especially, the women and orphans. It preached brotherhood and sisterhood of mankind, irrespective of one’s upbringing, colour, race, nationality and wealth. It demanded standing out for truth and justice, even if it was against one’s own soul (nafs). It demanded leading a clean life away from sin and vice that is always mindful of relationship with Allah, fellow creatures and environment, and his/her own self.
The highway blues
The Srinagar-Jammu National Highway is no more a freeway. The 290-km long road, the only surface link between the valley and the rest of the world, is in the worst condition with landslides, shooting stones and road sinking becoming a regular feature. After every two or three days, the road is closed for general traffic due to one or the other reason. The reasons are not only natural but man-made too. The haphazard and unplanned human interference in the mountainous region in the name of road-widening is the main of cataclysms in major parts of the highway. The 51-km Banihal—Ramban—Naushri patch and 25-km Chinani—Udhampur stretch are in the worst condition. On a normal day when there are no landslides or any other hindrance, it takes a passenger vehicle 8 to 10 hours to cross over the danger zone. For truckers, it is normal for them to take three to four days to cross over the highway. In case of blockades in the shape of landslides or shooting stones, it can take days together even a light vehicle traveler to reach the destination. There are around two dozen spots on Banihal—Naushri stretch—including Bali Nullah, Amar Cheshma, Naushri, Karool, Ramban, Seri, Kelamore, Fagmoola, Digdool, Khooni nullaha, Pantihal, Magarkoot, Ramsoo, Nachilana, Chamalwas and Shatani Nullaha, which are prone to land-sliding, shooting stones or sinking of road. On Monday the authorities closed the highway for any kind of vehicular movement following landslides at Ramso. As the landslides were cleared by the evening, another blockade struck the highway. Large cracks developed in the road at Ramban near JK bank office causing scare among the residents and travelers. The building housing the bank also developed cracks. The vehicular movement was immediately suspended on the highway and the Bank staff was shifted to a safer place. The local residents staged protest against the Construction Company and concerned government officials for their lackadaisical attitude towards management and repair work of the highway. Hundreds of light vehicles and trucks loaded with essential commodities have been stranded on the highway. Latest reports said that some of these vehicles have been allowed to move towards Srinagar after the repair work was completed. Almost a similar scene is witnessed daily on Chinani-Udhampur patch. Even more hazardous moments scare the travelers due to traffic jams. This predicament is a regular feature on the highway. Even in absence of landslides and other natural blockades, the traffic jams make a daily scene on the road. This is primarily due to ill-management of the vehicular movement. The highway is open for one way traffic only but one finds always a two way movement. It is generally alleged that the police, responsible for managing the traffic on the highway, do allow vehicular movement from the opposite side as well against bribes by the truckers. This two-way traffic causes jams at important bottlenecks. At times travelers get stuck in jams for hours together. Last week, the vehicular movement got blocked at a bottle neck at Udhumpur for around six hours. The passengers who had touched the Udhumpur bypass naka point at 8am were allowed to move forward at 4pm. Passengers complained that it took them 40 hours to reach Srinagar. The passengers and drivers too are responsible for the plight on the highway. They overtake each other, in their bid to make it first, and form several lines leaving little space for vehicles coming from opposite side to pass on. This is the main cause of traffic jam on the road which, on occasions, takes hours to clear. As the highway is the sole link, it is the responsibility of everyone to adhere to traffic rules to make it a safe and smooth journey.