Frequent closure of highway leaves a flood of people stranded thus encouraging the residents to have structured and sustainable initiatives to manage huger reports Parrey Babar
When the highway has a crisis, a group gets hyperactive. Raahat is a volunteer-based trust set up by the society after Khan family of Nussu Badragund village initiated it. It operates on this side of the Jawahar Tunnel.
For years, Abdul Rashid Khan’s family has always been helpful to stranded passengers on the highway, providing them food and shelter. The family got into social work after some tragic incidents took place in their family.
The crisis hit the family when they lost their elder son in June 2009 to a road accident leaving behind a sister and two brothers along with the grieving parents. The family was yet to recover from the elder son’s death when the wife of Abdul Rashid Khan was diagnosed with breast cancer. The family was desperate to see her survive. It was this desperation that they flew to Mumbai’s Tata Cancer Hospital for her treatment where they spent lakhs of rupees. However, the lady died in 2013.
Ishrat Rashid Khan, 39, known locally as Lalee Khan, the surviving son of Rashid, then adopted the daughter of his deceased brother. Currently, in the business of sale and purchase of used vehicles, he is heading Raahat right now.
The trust had an interesting start. On a cold night of January 2019, when Lalee was returning home from his workshop at around 8 pm, he heard a voice saying “Kuch Khanay Ko Milayga” (can we get something to eat?).
“This desperate call for food moved me deeply,” Lalee said. “I turned back and saw a driver was waiting for my answer.”
Quickly, Khan rushed to a nearby shop to buy some food items and provided them to the stranded truckers. He asked them if they needed anything else. The driver said they are stranded for eight days and lack, cash and even clothes because they did not carry warm clothing from home.
This gave Khan a trigger to do something. He came home and rang up all his friends and invited them home. They discussed the problem and sought suggestions. Irfan, Lalee’s young teacher brother, was part of the discussion. Younis Rashid a student volunteer suggested starting a Langhar, a community kitchen to feed the stranded.
“I thought if we help the stranded with raw materials it will go unnoticed in the public and we may not get public support that we require,” Younis said. “But when residents will see Langhar, they will start contributing because seeing is believing.” This marked the takeoff of Raahat. Now, Younis is the group’s spokesperson.
The residents brought the cooking utensils and started contributing rice, fuelwood and cash. A shopkeeper gave his space for establishing the kitchen. “We decided to provide the stranded truckers with meals and tea with bread two times a day,” Lalee said.
Within days, the volunteers started using their own cars for serving the food. These vehicles were fitted with loudspeaker for announcements in Urdu and Kashmiri language: “Aaw Chai Piyo; Khana Tayar Hai, Jaldoi Karoo.”
Raahat operated along a distance of 25 km from Meer Bazaar to Jawahar Tunnel. During the days when the highway remained closed, these volunteers would cover a distance of 200 km daily while providing meals to around 600 people, mostly drivers. This continued for fifteen days.
The support poured from all the sections of society. Seeing their service, even the Sikh drivers joined the kitchen chorus because the Langhar is basically a Punjab phenomenon.
Social media is a great influencer helped the Raahat group reach more people. Commoners apart, some established organisations like Kashmir Off Roads, Athrout and some big businessmen of Srinagar city also extended their help. Later, a wall of kindness was also set up where the truckers get warm clothes and blankets.
After the abrogation of Article 370 and the subsequent communication blockade, the Raahat operations came to a halt. During those days the group helped local residents and many non-residents reach their home safely. Raahat is quite active these days as the road is closed for a longer duration and lot many people, mostly drivers, are stranded. Food apart, they are extending medical help as well.
During the pandemic, the group provided more than 15000 masks to the public. Besides, they provided 20 PPE kits to doctors and also placed 100 sanitisers at public places which including around ATMs. The organisation also sanitised the religious places Masjids and Gurdawars in the vicinity.
The Trust’s future plans include extending help of Rs 40,000 (by way of provisions) to underprivileged brides. They have already helped nine brides, os far It intends to adopt orphans and destitute families by offering them monthly stipend. If the public sup[port continues, the group wants to purchase an ambulance and extended some help to cancer patients by way of compensating their medical bill. They are already helping three patients.