Despite being hailed as ‘unsung heroes’, linemen of Kashmir power department are grappling with a low-pay, hazardous duty, and lack of post-trauma shock-absorbing system.
The darkness he used to drive out with his dauntless duty has now engulfed his own life and liveliness.
In the state of powerlessness, he flashes a beaming smile of being true to his role.
But despite risking his own life to light peoples’ homes, the ex-linesman now finds himself as a cast off crew member struggling to feed his family.
His shocking plight invokes a telling Kashmiri phrase: “Nan’gie taa’ri lag’un” (Getting electrocuted).
Inside his home, hollowness created by his despairing self is blatant. His crippled state makes him a hopeless person bitten and burnt by the shabby affairs of the valley.
But before the enforced tragedy—known to devour his tribe, some of whom are often captured roasted on livewires of the valley—the erstwhile eager man would act as a leading light.
He now leads a destitute life of a doomed person.
The life-changing shock came in 2015, when 25-year-old Nazir Khan came in direct contact with a livewire during the repairing work in his native village, Kalaroos area of Kupwara district.
He fell down from a 10-feet tall electric pole, with a loud thud on a blacktop, and fainted on the spot. He survived the shock, but was handicapped for life.
“I was about to finish the work when someone connected the electricity from the source and my head came in direct contact with the livewire,” Khan recalls the fateful day of March 6, 2015, when as usual, he was called up to repair a damaged wire on the pole.
“I tried to get off my head from the wire with my hands but while doing that the wire engrossed my hands.”
He somehow managed to free himself from wire and fell down unconscious.
Locals immediately rushed him to a nearby local hospital, where from he was shifted referred to Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS), Soura, for the advanced treatment.
“In SKIMS, doctors sounded very dreadful to me,” Khan recalls. “They said the shock had caused the grievous damage and to prevent the further impairment, they needed to cut down my both arms.”
Khan is among the 70,430 reported casual labours engaged by Power Development Department (PDD) in Jammu and Kashmir.
Due to the dearth of the permanent staff, this casual workforce carries out most of the maintenance work across the valley.
In the line of duty, when some of them dies or gets injured, they say, they’re not provided any financial support.
The far cry in this trouble-torn tribe remains that they’re being engaged as a technical staff without any proper training and safety equipment.
In past when some of these linesmen were seen hanging as a smoke-billowing charred bodies on the high-tension wires and poles, it created hue and cry in the valley.
The recurrent ruckus forced the former state government to send a detailed project report to New Delhi for setting up of the two National Power Training Institutes in Jammu and Kashmir.
But due to the paucity of funds, these institutes could never shape up. This has only made these PDD workers vulnerable to hazardous shocks.
“While working in the field we’re not being provided any power-resisting safety kit or any kind of life insurance,” says Mushtaq Ahmad, a PDD casual labourer.
“Only the senior officials and the people working in towns and cities are provided the same. While leaving for work we are never certain about our safe return to home.”
In the last one decade, more than 400 PDD workers have reportedly died in Jammu and Kashmir, while among the 700 injured workers, many have been rendered crippled for life.
“My father had just come home from duty when he got a call from an inspector saying he needs to fix the damaged fuse of a transformer in the locality,” recalls Sajid Ahmad, son of a daily-wage PDD worker.
“Despite being warned by the locals, the inspector instructed my father to fix the transformer. As soon as he touched the transformer, he got electrocuted, fell down and died on spot.”
After the accident, Sajad says, the inspector changed the timing of tripping details and further shocked the family.
Later, an FIR was lodged in the local police station, but Sajad says, it was fabricated and totally vague.
“The FIR copy reads that there was some earth wire problem in the transformer,” the son of the PDD worker says. “The FIR had not stated the actual cause that transformer had the damaged fuse.”
Almost five months later, Sajid is still making endless trips to the government offices to get his father’s documents done. But his case is only lingering.
“I was promised by the local executive engineer that I would be appointed at my father’s place on temporary basis,” he says. “But so far, nothing has been done.”
On his part, the said executive engineer makes it curt: “Whosoever has been negligent or is guilty, will be brought to the fore and shall be treated according to the law.”
But when contacted on this crucial and critical matter, wherein these workers are dying right under the nose of the department, Chief Engineer, PDD, Aijaz Dar excused himself for “I do not have any detailed information about it”.
Amid all these, many of these casual labours—serving the department from more than two decades now—are awaiting salaries and regularisation.
“Our salaries are pending since months,” says a PDD worker.
“We’re now tired of going to offices and protesting for our monthly dues. If other government employees who work within a limited time slot can get salaries on time, why can’t we, even after working 24/7?”
To back these “unsung heroes”, K-netizens have lately started throwing their weight behind them. And yet the apathy refuses to die down on the real world.
“We too have families,” says Warid Ahmad, who heads North Kashmir-based PDD casual labourer camp. “We may be forced to quit if not paid our dues.”
The PDD bosses, however, say there’s no such case of pending salaries and the labourers enlisted with them are given the monthly salary on time.
Meanwhile, at his home, Nazir Khan narrates how his life-changing injury made him bedridden in the hospital for almost a year.
“I did not have enough money to pay the hospital bills,” he says. “The local dailywage workers had to raise funds to clear my bills.”
The favour, however, deeply distressed the self-made Khan who had stepped into his late father’s shoes quite early in his life.
As a breadwinner, he would always fight from the front for his family.
“But now,” he breaks down, “I’m handicapped and cannot go to the field work or earn some other livelihood.”
He now looks after paperwork in his office, but rues the job hasn’t paid him a penny from last nine months.
“I’ve nothing to feed myself and my family,” Khan laments. “I had never imagined this shocking life for my family. This helplessness kills me every day now.”