Field Notes: Finding Deep Despair Amid The Quiet Of The LoC


When spring ended the long winter in Kashmir this year, the winds carried with them a renewed sense of purpose.

I went to north Kashmir’s frontier town, Uri, to report a sweeping change triggered by a truce across the Line of Control (LoC) between India and Pakistan in February 2021.

Once belligerent guns had fallen silent, and tourists were making their way to places consumed by conflict until three years ago. Villages near the LoC had shed the weight of the shelling and explosives, embracing life after the bullets and mortar. 

But amid this newfound tranquillity, I found the struggle for a livelihood had cast a shadow upon many lives.

Men who were once labourers, drivers, and cleaners at the Salamabad Trade Facilitation Center (TFC) now fought with the harsh reality of unemployment. 

The TFC, a bustling hub of LoC trade in Kashmir, was shut down by the Union Ministry for Home Affairs (MHA) in April 2019, alleging that people in Pakistan were using trade routes to funnel illegal weapons, narcotics and fake currency. 

At the entrance of the TFC, a guard easily let me in. The once thriving centre now received very few visitors or any visitors at all. Walking in felt like stepping into a ghost town—no hustle and bustle, just eerie silence. It felt like the place awaited something to bring it back to life.

To understand how severe the crisis was, I met Mohammed Shafi Wathloo, the chairman of the Uri Market Association, who spoke for a long time about how hard things had been since the cross-border trade was suspended. 

Wathloo told me about this labourer who approached him after Eid and said, “Haji Sahab, I haven’t had a single day of work during Ramadan. My kids barely had enough to eat.” 

I could see the pain in Wathloo’s eyes, like he was feeling every word the labourer said.

Mohammed Tariq Khan’s income rose 20 times after tax-free barter trade began between India & Pakistan in 2008. Today, his savings are gone, he’s sold his wife’s gold to clear a Rs-40-lakh debt. He runs a small convenience store on the outskirts of Srinagar and faces a Rs-87-lakh demand for back taxes/ZAID BIN SHABIR

The labourer’s fate spoke to the question that seemed heavy in the air: How did it come to this? How did someone who just wanted to provide for his family end up like this? I sat there, not having any answers. 

Wathloo wasn’t sharing because he thought I could change things. He just wanted someone to listen, to understand. With a faint smile, he summed up the conversation, “Was trade suspension the right answer for those who only wished to provide for their families?”

A few days later, as I started driving back from Uri, the story of that labourer stayed with me. His tale left me with a lingering thought: Who’s to blame for this heartbreaking crisis? 

Read Zaid Bin Shabir’s full story here.

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