By a strange confluence, this village in Baramulla has over decades given Kashmir hundreds of its linemen responsible for maintaining electricity supply lines in all conditions. M Afzal Sofi profiles Nowpora Kallan, the linemen village of Kashmir.
This village may be like any other in Kashmir, but it has developed a unique feature since the early 1950s. Hundreds of men of Nowpora Kalan village in Baramulla district have from three generations working in the power development department as linemen or casual labourers.
According to Mohammad Akbar, an ex-serviceman himself, about 400 villagers have served in the department since 1952. Most of the 500 households in the village have at least one retired or serving member in the department. The linemen of this village are well-known across Kashmir.
“The people of our village have worked as labourers and linemen in most areas of the valley. They are known everywhere for their strength and hard work,” Akbar says proudly.
At present 30 men from the village are working with the power development department with three to five retiring every year from service. “With no further recruitment by the department since 1990 the figure of serving persons has now reduced to about 30 and most of them work as daily waged linemen,” said Akbar adding that people have started shifting to other professions now.
When asked about the reason behind such a case, locals said that it was due to the influence of some local officers in the department.
“During the construction of Mohra, Uri power project in the 1950s there were few persons of this village who were working as line-erecters in the project. They used to take the labourers from the village for erecting the poles and to connect (transmission) wires in different areas of the valley.
During the time they gained expertise and were recruited as linemen by the same department,” said Mohammad Ramazan, 70,a resident of the village who is also a retired lineman.
Later when some linemen were promoted to higher posts in the department they also preferred their own villagers, continuing the trend.
Some villagers cite poverty and their hardworking nature as a reason. “ Electric pole and line-erecting is a very risky job and it requires a lot of courage. People of this village were ready to accept this challenging task due to extreme poverty,” said Habibullah, 40, a resident of Nowpora.
Some locals also believe that the history of the villagers as casual labourers in the power development department goes back to 1947. “Due to post-partition incidents like the Jammu massacre and tribal invasion, most of them went to the other side of the border to save their lives. They could not come back,” said Ghulam Mohammad, an octogenarian villager adding that they were recruited as linemen in the power department in the other part of Kashmir as well.
Apart from enjoying the fruits of employment from the power department, the village has witnessed several tragedies also. During the last 20 years at least 15 persons have been electrocuted while on work – six died and the rest were maimed.
In one such incident, Mohammad Ramzan Lone, a lineman, now 65, was repairing the high-tension line at Sangrama, Baramulla when a sudden flash of electricity paralyzed his body and he fell down.
“My right leg and neck was badly injured, blood was oozing from my body, I was rushed to hospital in time and survived but doctors could not prevent the right portion of my body from getting paralyzed,” he said.
In a similar incident, another lineman, Ghulam Mohammad War sustained grievous injuries when he was repairing power lines in Krankshivan Colony, Sopore. His collogues said that he was electrocuted when another line coming from a parallel feeder overlapped the line he was repairing.
“He received electric shocks. He was tossed on to the ground with a force. As a result, he sustained injuries in his face and hands,” one of his colleagues said. His hand was amputated but he died a few days later.
The Nowpora linemen blame the authorities for putting their lives at risk by not providing them with proper repairing equipment.