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'Muzaffarabad trip is my last wish'

By Tejinder Sodhi in Baramulla
March 22, 2005 19:55 IST
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Around 3,000 people turned up at the district passport office in Baramulla on Tuesday for permits to travel by the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus.

Most had to return disappointed.

People started queuing up at the passport office early in the morning.

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When they discovered that only 35 permit forms would be distributed there was an uproar. People started jostling each other.

The policemen deployed at the passport office resorted to a lathi-charge to bring the crowd under control.

Many were hurt in the lathi-charge and left the place bleeding.

Old and infirm Ali Mohammed Lone, who was the first in the queue for the forms, was pushed aside in the melee.

"When the forms were being distributed in Srinagar, I went there to try my luck. I failed and decided to come here," said the 84-year-old resident of Uri.

"I was in the queue at 5:30 am. Even the guards were asleep. I don't know how I can fight for my rights now," said an anguished Lone.

The authorities later decided to conduct a lucky draw for the permit forms.

The names of the 3,000 aspirants were written on pieces of paper and a child was asked to pick 35.

After the 'winners' were picked, the unlucky ones started raising slogans against the authorities.

Adil Hussain Shah, a resident of Sheeri, questioned the government's intention in launching the bus.

"The government only wants to send people who can speak its language; that's why the government is selective in distributing forms," Shah said after he failed to get a form.

Lone told this reporter why it was a matter of life and death for him to make it to Muzaffarabad.

"It is my last wish to go to Muzaffarabad to meet my only child and her family. I brought her up after her mother's death. We used to live a happy life in Muzaffarabad," he said, his eyes brimming with tears.

"I came to Uri, settled here and married again. By God's will, I did not have another child. My daughter was married into a well-settled family in Muzaffarabad. A year after her marriage, Partition divided us and Muzaffarabad became part of Pakistan."

"After her marriage I never saw her again," he said. "We used to write to each other and exchange photographs. I opted to live on this side of the border. That was my worst mistake. I should have gone there."

Ali Mohammed Lone was not among the 35 lucky ones…

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Tejinder Sodhi in Baramulla