For so many months passenger vehicles in Kashmir stand parked and paralyzed. From August 2019, the continuous spell of restrictions caused frequent interruptions in public transport activities. People associated with transport industry bore the brunt of the situation. In the year 2020, corona pandemic brought additional penalty and punishment. Transporters including drivers, conductors, owners, mechanics, and affiliated actors and agents are facing compelling circumstances in present scenario.
Living a hand to mouth life, transporters, especially drivers and conductors are entirely dependent on daily earnings. In the last couple of decades, conflict related incidents always disrupted their routine. Curfews, shutdowns, Chalos, and even the natural calamities like floods and heavy snowfall – all have inflicted loss on the transporters . In the pandemic crisis, the magnitude of hardships is only unimaginable.
Fulfilling the basic needs is no less than a challenge for the heads of such families. Add to this the pressures to pay monthly installments on loans, with high interest rates to the concerned banks. And then they are overburdened to pay the dues for renewal of documents and certificates. A hefty amount is paid to the insurance companies annually. In this whirlpool of miseries transporters are left hopeless. No doubt, most of the population is reeling under the effects of present pandemic. They all portray the same grim and gloomy reality, but the sobs and sighs of people associated with transport industry have remained relatively distant from public gaze, and received little media coverage.
Transport industry operates with its own distinct ecosystem providing livelihood to different actors involved in the passenger chain. Drivers, conductors, mechanics, spare part dealers, workshop attendants –all form a complex web and mutually manage this transport enterprise to earn some living to support their families. But once the buses get pegged at bus stands for months and roads remain deserted, the obvious fall out is a tragedy for the entire community.
As majority of them are already indebted, the expectations of financial assistance from others is a remote possibility. The long queues of buses parked in desolated bus stands for months are self-revealing; a sorry state of affairs for transporters. That hustle and bustle and honking of horns is no more. The deadly siren of pandemic has silenced everyone including these much remembered lovely and lively buses – symbolizing the convenience of the common man.
Drivers are very fondly addressed as ‘wosta’ in local lexicon. These masters are battling for survival. The acronymic title wost’a carries a twin tinge of recognition and respect for driving profession. These drivers who ferry passengers throughout the length and breadth of city, towns and villages are jobless now. The soul source of income has vanished. With no other expertise at all, alternatives for earning are non-existent. Out of compulsion, some of them are in search of labour and few have opted to vendor. Such compelling circumstances are indicative of their deeply embedded plight.
Individual and institutional initiatives to mitigate the sufferings of pandemic affected groups must identify these transporters as one of the most deserving lot in need of help. Government should come forward to rescue transport industry with special stimulus package to keep hopes of their families intact. Imposing lockdown restrictions is imperative and inevitable to control the spread of corona infection. Restrictions on public transport to enforce adherence to preventive measures is fairly logical. But letting the transporters to fend for themselves in an acute financial crunch without any substantial support or compensation is illogical and unfair.
Banks must consider waiver of interest and certain relaxation in favour of those who have availed loan facility. Reposing trust in the customers’ integrity and extending relief measures can give some solace to the traumatized transporters. Other agencies and institutions must lower their wings to take on board their genuine grievances to entertain and address them empathetically. Extra-ordinary challenges need to be dealt in extraordinary ways.
Corona pandemic has only prolonged and aggravated the sufferings of transporters. This section of the society merits attention as well as assistance. They deserve patient hearing. Their families are compromising with a challenging situation. Both the government and non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) should chalk out a comprehensive strategy to pull them out this crisis. At individual and community level, these families must find some priority in philanthropic acts aimed at helping the needy. It is time to display the true spirit of humanity. Blow horn, please!
Bilal Kaloo is Assistant Professor, Department of Education (South Campus), University of Kashmir