‘We were stranded due to COVID, we sought permission to travel, now please let us go home’

With phone services blocked, things have become much worse now

Locals who were stuck in different states of India due to the COVID-19 lockdown, are now stuck in different districts of Jammu, while on their way back, after seeking permission to travel.

A batch of eighty that was stuck in Samba for more than a day, say they were kept hungry and ‘at one place like cattle’.

20 among them are women, 8 children (4 infants) and the rest of them men from various age groups and health conditions.

They say they have been tested by the authorities for coronavirus and had agreed to stay quarantined, but the quarantine facility was neither hygienic, nor safe.

In a telephonic conversation, the stranded travellers told Free Press Kashmir that all of them were travelling in their own vehicles (20 cars) and have proper permission from the government to travel to Kashmir.

However, they prefer to stay in their cars as the facilities the authorities have provided are ‘more hazardous than the pandemic’.

“On May 4, at seven in the morning, we reached Lakhanpur. We were stopped there till 10 o’clock. During this time, they did our medical examination. At 10, they took us to a hospital in Lakhanpur. They took our samples for COVID. They said as soon as our test reports come, they will let us go,” says Showkat Shah, a Kashmiri businessman.

He says that authorities had promised to arrange accommodation for them. At 3, in the night, they were taken from Lakhanpur to Samba’s Bee Pee Greens Banquet Hall.

The hall was stinking, according to Shah.

“In just one hall, around 80 Kashmiris were asked to stay. The place were extremely dirty. Bedding was on the floor and had mud and bloodstains on them,” shares Shah.

The place was already used by 19 other people as a quarantine centre.

“We don’t even know if anyone among them was corona positive or not. If one among them had it, we all will have it by morning,” he says, exclaiming, “Imagine 80 people using just one washroom!”

We asked the authorities to take us to a hotel, and that we will pay our own bills, says Shah. The proposal was refused.

“At 4 in the night, a police official came and tried harassing us. He even asked us not to do this ‘Kashmiri politics’ here. He told us that we don’t know what all they can do to us. Later, we took him to the hall and that’s when he agreed that the hall is not fit for staying,” says Shah.

“If one among us had it, we all will have it by morning,” says Shah.

Speaking to Free Press Kashmir, another stranded traveller said that they preferred to stay in their cars instead.

She says they were asked to cooperate with the authorities who had promised them that they will come at 8 in the morning and provide them with breakfast.

“The children have not eaten anything till now. We complained to them and they said they will bring us food in the morning. And make our passes for Kashmir. It’s 3.30 pm. We saw no one here,” she says.

“Because of the hot weather, we have been using the Air Conditioners in our cars, now we are about to run low on the fuel as well,” she says.

Shah who is among the stranded says that he had been in Delhi since August 2019 with his family.

“After the abrogation of Article 370, Kashmir went economically down and business suffered huge losses. I have a business of shawl manufacturing so I went to Delhi to make ends meet,” says Shah, whose family had gone back to Kashmir recently, and he was supposed to join them soon.

However, the WHO declared a pandemic, and the government in India imposed a lockdown. With no transport facility, Shah like thousands of others wanted to travel back home. “I am a heart patient, and I should not be staying alone for long.” he says.

When he got to know that planes were going to shut down, he panicked and bought a ticket for Rs 28,800 from Indigo Airlines. “Next day, even that flight got cancelled,” he shares adding that like a good citizen, he stayed inside, until the government allowed stranded people to travel.

“We were stranded due to COVID, we sought permission to travel, now please let us go home,” Shah says in desperation.

After some amongst the travellers reached out for help on social media to DC Kashmir Shahid Chaudhary, the stranded travellers were been told that they will be escorted without passes.

According to the Police, all travellers had to stay in quarantine till their test reports came, as procedure.

“It takes at max 3 days. The reports can come before that as well. Let’s hope no one among them is COVID-19 positive. I have not heard anyone saying that the conditions in the quarantine facilities are not fit for the stay. The officials who went there can say better,” a police official from Samba said.

Free Press Kashmir could not find these officials who visited the facility.

Phone services were still shut down when this report was filed.


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