Cursed Numbers

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Focus on particular registration numbers during routine wayside searches by the security grid has impacted the resale value of some vehicles, reports Umar Mukhtar

Every evening Manzoor Ahmad, 45, a resident of Shopian leaves office early by almost half an hour. “I want to cross all the check-points in daylight,” Ahmad, an employee of handicrafts department at Srinagar, said. “Driving after dusk can be dangerous.”

En-route home, Ahmad is stopped almost at half a dozen spots by the police and the army for checking. They let him go only after a thorough search. “At every stop, my seats, dashboard and backside of the car is checked.” This almost adds half an hour extra to his daily journey.

Ahmad has taken a new car just eight months back to ensure he reaches home every evening especially because of his newborn and unwell mother. “I was very happy when I got the new car,” Ahmad said. It had a flipside as well. Every time he is stopped, the searchlight falls on his number plate: JK 22. It is the registration district code for Shopian.

Ahmad is now so frustrated by the daily checking that he wants to sell off his car. “Sometimes the soldiers at the nakka are rude, they even abuse,” he said. “It humiliates.”

JavaidBazaz, 29, a resident of Pulwama is a PhD scholar at the University of Kashmir. He drives down to the campus daily. He is also stopped at every check point because of his number plate: JK 13.

Unlike mornings, when he returns home late in the evening, his vehicle is frisked and searched frequently. “I wonder if JK 13 is laden with some danger! Sometimes they search me like I am carrying weapons of mass destruction,” Bazaz alleged.

This is Bazaz’s third year routine from Pulwama to Hazratbal via Kakapora.  He now remembers the “greeting question” by the soldiers: “Kya le jarahe ho gaadi main.”

Laptop and books is his standard answer. “Sometimes they ask in such a harsh tone that I even forget my clichéd answer.”

Bazaz believes that the vehicles carrying JK 13 number plates were always searched and suspected but after the February 2019 Pulwama attack, things have changed drastically. There is much suspicion for JK 13.

“In Kakapora village there are two search parties just half a kilometre apart: one outside a garrison and another near the police station.”

Frustrated by the daily humiliation, Bazaz now prefers to travel with his cousin who works in a private company in Srinagar. His cousin owns a Srinagar number car JK 01. “We are hardly searched in my cousin’s car.”

Another commuter Irfan Ahmad said that whenever he reaches late evening at the Panderethan nakka, one CRPF man is just checking number plates with his flashy torch.  “As I proceed, I am asked to get down and my vehicle is searched because I have JK13 number.”

This “special” treatment is not limited to these numbers only; even JK 18 is also looked with same suspicion. Ramiz, a car agent who operates in Anantnag district said this problem is not particular to just two numbers but vehicles carrying the number of plates of south Kashmir are looked at with suspicion.  “Most of the customers prefer numbers other than that of south Kashmir. Mostly Srinagar number, JK 01 and Budgam number JK 04 are preferred,” he said. “I had some clients who sold their only month’s old vehicles just to avoid confrontation with the forces.”

This issue has largely impacted the resale value of the vehicles carrying number plates of southern districts. “The same model car carrying a southern district number cost less, almost Rs 10000 to Rs 20000 as that of a Srinagar or any other district number,” said Sameer Ahmad (name change) who works in true value department at Peaks outlet in Pulwama. “The Pulwama number is much hated among all others.”

Now the people have started finding the alternatives to the problem. “I have seen cases where people manage the residential proof of other district and get the numbers other than the southern one. That is why you will find more Srinagar and Budgam number vehicles plying on the Pulwama roads.”

Sameer is working in the Peaks for the last five years and in between he has worked in Srinagar too. He talks about the ratio he has observed over the years related to the customer preferences. “The ratio is 8:2. Out of every 10 customers, 8 prefer vehicles with numbers other than the JK 13, 18 and 22,” Sameer said. “Imagine when you are not willing to take your own district number how would a customer from other district take it.”

A police officer told Kashmir Life that there are no such particular orders to search these numbers. “These areas are prone to militant related activities hence the probability factor makes us to check them more,” the officer said, insisting that he is talking off the record.

But the market is not suffering hugely. ARTO Pulwama Mukhtar Ahmad said that the registrations are increasing day by day.

“Yes it is a fact, the registrations are increasing day by day,” Mukhtar said. “It may be because people are excited to get a new car but from an agent’s perspective I am sure they must be regretting later.”

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