By S K Patra
The Kupwara district in Kashmir is a land of unimaginable beauty. One can soak their memories in a warm cup of ‘Kawah’, while appreciating landscapes and inhaling the crisp misty air. The Shamshabari region in the district is an apt place to feel your heart synchronize with the gushing waters that travel from the sun-kissed, snow-capped mountains.
In the hamlets around Kupwara, Nazeem Sheikh and people like him are known as saviours. Nazeem is one of over 500 local men currently employed as porters with the Indian Army at the forward locations in the Shamsahbari region. Since the Indian Army moved into this region in 1984, it has employed residents of local villages, who are familiar with the perilous terrain, as porters. The porters’ job is to carry loads - about 20 kilograms - to Army posts on the higher altitudes. Presently their jobs have expanded to include stocking the posts with Ration and Kerosene, melting ice into water for daily use and also aid in building Defense Infrastructure post winter. At such altitude and freezing temperatures of the region, where even basic tasks such as eating, drinking, walking and breathing prove tough, the porters become the lifeline for the forces. Their familiarity with the terrain has also made them indispensable in search and rescue operations after mishaps, such as avalanches.
But for the men in the villages surrounding the Armed Forces location, becoming a porter is an act borne out of compulsion since they have few other sources of income due to the low infrastructure and lack of employment in the region; courtesy Pakistan nefarious design of warfare in Kashmir vis a vis frequent arty shellings and infiltration of terrorists. Porters are wholly dependent for their source of living on the Armed forces deployed along Line Of Control. Porters employed by the army are offered with daily wages, medical support, food and shelter. The porters are paid according to the grade of the post they work at and they are employed for raising the defence infrastructure after a harsh winter season.
At the end of a month of working with the army, Nazeem makes enough money to meet
the financial needs of his family. “I have been making the money all these years. All the porters have families and children to look after and employment has always been the biggest concern for which Army helps us to make the ends meet. They also organize many events for our leisure such as Cultural, Social and Sporting Events. This Ramadan they also hosted an Iftaar party for all the Porters employed in the Unit”, he concludes joyfully.
Armed forces take care of the porters and their needs. The wages are no more the porters’ most pressing concern, as they avail all the military facilities such as accommodation, ration and treatment at military hospital among others. The porters are usually simple and hospitable folks of this region who assist the Armed forces to get through the harsh climatic conditions and aid in the normal day to day activities of the forces and on the other hand, the Army takes care of their financial, mental and social well-being. Surely, this alliance has won many wars against a barbaric neighbour and is strongly willed to protect Jammu Kashmir ,No matter what !