'How could have we let our guests sleep empty stomach'

On April 3, residents of Arambagh-Batpora village in Shopian felt “restless” after seeing the plight of hungry non-local labourers, who were gathered by administration from across the district in the premises of local Government Higher Secondary School.

“They were dizzy. Hunger was visible on their faces,” said Zahoor Ahmad Dar, a resident Arambagh. 

On the day, the district administration had received a directive to put all non-local labourers at specified six locations together, in view of “security threat” following announcement of Domicile Law in J&K. The administration was in need of accommodation and food for the non-locals. 

Though, officials say accommodation was not a problem and the non-local labourers were adjusted in a “spacious” building in the district. However, managing their meals on the first day on “short notice” was an arduous task, the official accepted.

Deputy Commissioner (DC) Shopian, Choudhary Mohammad Yasin said, “There was a security threat due to Domicile Law announcement. We had to gather all the non-local labourers, who were otherwise spread in the entire district. Obviously, there were lots of people coming in on a very short notice.”

“We were short of hands to organise food and so we requested volunteers,” the DC confirmed.

It was when the residents held on the centuries old ethos of Kashmir and organized the food for the non-locals gathered in their area.

Another resident Shahid Ahmad said the elderly at Arambagh choose a volunteer group, who was instructed to collect donations, with a strict direction to maintain distance during the collection. 

“There were non-locals brought by police from adjoining places including Zainapora, Kacchidara,Chitragam, Pinjoora, Imamsahab, Dangihama and other places. They were kept at the school building,” said Dar.

He added, “It was obvious from their body language that they were hungry. Some were simply lying on the ground. Some asked us to provide them with a loaf of bread. Sensing, it would take time for administration to arrange food for them. We decided to serve them meals.”

However, due to COVID-19 pandemic crisis, the managing the act smoothly was a tough job. “We knew it was not a routine crisis. We had to maintain social distance in order to save ourselves and others as well from getting ill,” says Zahoor, a local.

The food, Zahoor said, was cooked away from the building, and brought inside the school premises in a car for non-locals.

“At school we distributed food and packaged water bottles among the non-locals. In the day, we provided food to 180 people and in the evening, we served food to 300 non-locals,” he said.

Next day, the local Zahoor Ahmad Dar said administration itself took charge and started providing food to the non locals. The officials said it will continue providing food to the non-locals, until the time travel restrictions are lifted and they get back to their homes.

“We are giving them ration and cooked food as well. It is a kind of challenge to manage a big group considering the fact that the social distance also needs to be maintained. So, we limited the gathering to 150 people that too in spacious buildings with adequate space all around,” said DC Shopian.

“How could we have let our guests sleep empty stomach that day, when we had eaten stomach full? It doesn’t reflect our ethos,” the local Zahoor Ahmad Dar said.