KUPWARA: At a time when silence and separation have become synonymous to Kashmiris living in the valley, many of them without even a landline connection for over two months now, Zahid’s name is on everyone’s lips in Kupwara.

22 years old, Zahid has emerged as a messiah of love and affection, as he walks many miles each day to bridge the communications blockade, using his lone Airtel postpaid sim in the Nai Harie area some 20 kilometres from Kupwara.

Zahid facilitates some 100 phone calls every day, fixing a time for Kupwara residents to talk to their loved ones who have been living in anxiety. He reaches out to people well in advance to inform them when to stay at home so they may talk to their children, family and friends outside the Valley.

Airtel is the only cellular network which has an incoming call facility, that too only in the district of Kupwara.

One day Zahid received a call from his cousin studying in Delhi. “I got my first call from my cousin. During our conversation I suggested he post my number on Facebook, so fellow Kashmiris outside the Valley would be able to talk to their families back home. The idea clicked and now I’m able to bring a smile to the faces of many in Kupwara,” he said.

Most students’ calls are confined to their well-being, upcoming exams, fees and monthly expenses. Zahid also writes down messages to convey to their parents. “Now, people in the area know that if I’m visiting their locality I will be bringing them a message. I feel content seeing people smile, tears rolling down their cheeks as they hear messages from their loved ones.”

After some time it was discovered that a few other people had postpaid connections in villages nearby. “We approached them and discovered other Airtel postpaid numbers. We collected these to share with students hailing from different villages. Now we manage phone calls for three villages—connecting people,” he smiles.

Shariq Ahmad, who studies in Meerut, said “I called Zahid some days back and fixed a particular date and time in the evening, when everyone would be home. I called his mobile number… and after 56 days I was able to speak to my family.”

The blockade on phone and internet connectivity has badly affected people in Kashmir. Musaib, a Kupwara resident who was studying at a college in Rajasthan said, “I spoke to my parents recently and came to know my cousin sister had got married on August 18-19. As there was no phone connectivity, neither could my parents inform me about the wedding, nor could I attend. I felt helpless.”

Landline facilities are not available in the upper reaches of this farflung district. The government has also banned WLL or Wireless Local Loop connectivity, through which cellphone users in range can wirelessly connect to a functioning landline.

“After the central government’s assurances, when we came to know that landlines had been restored in the Valley, we went to the BSNL office in Kupwara town to apply for WLL as we don’t have any landline facilities here. But we weren’t even allowed to buy a WLL connection. The government had banned it. We were also told the government had strictly ordered them not to sell any new WLL connections,“ said area resident Junaid Ahmad.

Although the government stated on August 30 that mobile services in Kupwara district had been restored, people soon came to know that only Airtel postpaid’s incoming call services had been restarted.

These connections have only one or two customers in each village, making it difficult for most people to talk to their children or other family outside Kashmir.

Ever since the central government unilaterally stripped Jammu and Kashmir of its constitutional status, most Kashmiris have been living under a communications blockade, without even a landline connection in reach.

(Cover Photo: Representational image. BASIT ZARGAR / THE CITIZEN)