There were tears of both anger and relief at a government office in the heart of Srinagar, where people had come to make a solitary phone call to their loved ones living outside the State.
As the Kashmir Valley remained under a lockdown for the fifth day, the administration made some arrangements for residents to make calls. Three personal mobile phones of officials working at the Tankipora office were turned into helplines. Residents swarmed the office, with some waiting for more than six hours for their turn. The administration had shared the three numbers on local cable channels.
A plastic chair and a table had been placed on the lawn at the administrative complex where people queued up to register the numbers they wanted to call. Paper slips were handed out as tokens. “There are more than 200 people who have registered since 9 a.m. and only 23 have been able to speak as of now, it’s already 12 p.m. You can calculate how long we have to wait here now,” said Feroze Ansari, a local shopkeeper.
C.L. Vishen had had a death in the family and needed to speak to relatives in Delhi.
“I have come here so that I can ask when are the rituals planned,” said Prof. Vishen, a Kashmiri Pandit living in Srinagar.
“We cannot book tickets here as there is no Internet connectivity. The administration is trying to help people but the number of people who need help is much more, they must make further arrangements,” he added. His wife Vinodini said they had heard that some phone lines had been made operational at police stations as well but that they had come to the DC’s office to get an opportunity to call.
Harvinder Kaur from Jawahar Nagar said she wanted to let her son know that her Direct to Home (DTH) TV connection had run out of balance. “If you are going to Delhi please tell my son I am fine and ask him to recharge the TV. I do not have any other issue,” she told this reporter.
Rashida Eijaz burst into tears at the prospect of a chance to speak to her daughter. “She is in Delhi to pursue a course for two months. My only worry is what if she runs out of money,” said Ms. Eijaz, who had been waiting for over three hours. Sadiq Bhatt, an official at the DC’s office manning one of the lines, said the numbers had been shared on social media on Thursday night and that calls hadn’t stopped coming since then.
“There are a barrage of calls from outside the State,” Mr. Bhatt said. “Callers are anxious, how do you tell them to not call on this number. Sometimes when they are able to get through, the family members have left,” he added.
“They should have a facility where numbers either have incoming or outgoing call facility,” said Mohammad Ehsaan, another resident who was in the queue. “The lines are constantly engaged as too many people are calling at the same time,” he added.