Delivery Boys in Kashmir Allege Abuse, Harassment Amid Lockdown
Delivery services and courier companies in Kashmir have been exempted from lockdown curbs.
“Our delivery boys are working as frontline workers to deliver chemotherapy doses for cancer patients, protective gear for doctors, COVID-19 vaccines, and essential medical supplies to hospitals. But all this happens at the cost of facing insults and assaults,” said Abid Ali Bazaz, a courier company owner in Srinagar.
Bazaz (43), who runs Associate Courier Cargo and Co Loaders Company, added that lately, his employees have had to bear the brunt of the COVID-19 lockdown as security personnel deployed on the roads often allegedly beat and abuse the courier boys.
“Either the government should allow e-commerce companies, including courier services, to work smoothly or the service should not be exempted from the restrictions. Courier firm employees are being detained, their vehicles seized and they are not being allowed to work,” Bazaz told The Quint.
On 28 April, the Jammu and Kashmir administration imposed an 84-hour-long lockdown in 11 districts. The next day, a detailed order issued by the Srinagar district administration under the Disaster Management Act listed out restrictions and permissible activities that exempted courier companies from the curbs.
However, over the past month, courier service providers in Kashmir have been alleging increased incidents of police brutality amid the lockdown to control the second wave of COVID-19 pandemic in the region.
Bazaz said that while the government was denying curfew passes to the courier staffers, it is also sought delivery of medical supplies, protective gear, and COVID-19 vaccines for the hospitals in the valley.
“The medical stock or protective gear you see in the hospitals of the valley these days are available only due to the efforts of courier companies. If our employees and delivery boys don’t work, you won’t get COVID-19 drugs, vaccines, and protective gear,” he said.
On 10 May, Adil Majeed Shah, an employee of another Srinagar-based courier company was heading towards his office when security personnel deployed at Batamaloo Chowk stopped him and refused to let him pass.
“Even after showing my ID card and explaining that I deliver medical supplies to the hospitals in the city, I was abused and they ruthlessly beat me up,” said 35-year-old Shah. He added that he couldn’t resume work for weeks due to the wounds he suffered, including a major arm injury.
“When a passerby tried to rescue me, he was also thrashed. Though the crepe bandage from my arm is gone, I still can't move it properly,” he said.
Zubair Sheikh, regional head of J&K’s Snapdeal unit, alleged that policemen on 12 May entered the premises of the Snapdeal office in Srinagar and inflicted a baton charge on the staffers working inside.
“Despite the government’s permission to run e-commerce service amid the lockdown, the police barged into our office and beat up our employees. Three staffers suffered injuries and the parcels, phones, and computers at the office were also damaged,” Zubair Sheikh told The Quint.
Fear of Job Loss, Panic Grips Delivery Boys
Every morning around 10:00 am, Mohammad Imran Sheikh and his friend Owais Hyder Sofi – both deliverypersons from the Lal Bazar area of Srinagar – would leave home to deliver parcels. Their job was to hand over different items and products assigned to them by their courier company. This had been their routine for the past three years. But the situation changed over the last month.
Due to the lockdown and the COVID-19 scare, many delivery boys like them are not just out of work but are also on the verge of losing their jobs.
“Every day we leave home to report to the office. But security personnel patrolling the roads do not allow us to go. We are stopped, abused, and humiliated,” said 41-year-old Sofi who works for Myntra Logistics. “If we do not reach the office, our company will fire us and find new people,” he lamented.
President of the Kashmir Courier Association, Qari Zahoor told The Quint that nearly 3,000 employees are directly dependent upon courier companies and 6,000 indirectly. Due to unfavourable circumstances in Kashmir from time to time, maximum courier staffers were laid off.
This time, however, the government has exempted e-commerce from the restrictions but the employees are still being denied the curfew passes, making them “soft targets on the roads to face the ire of security forces”.
“I approached the deputy commissioner’s office in Srinagar several times to get curfew passes for the staffers. But so far, I haven’t received a proper response. Our delivery boys are taking risks to ensure delivery of medical stock to hospitals, but sadly, the government does not care about their safety,” rued Qari.
He added that he himself was called by the police to the Kothi Bagh police station and asked to limit e-commerce activities.
“What’s sad is that the policemen deployed on roads are not allowing delivery boys even when they see them carrying blood samples of patients. Due to the delay, the time-sensitive blood samples get spoiled and patients are not able to get the reports on time. These days, we only take and deliver medical supplies. But still our pleas fall on deaf ears,” he said.
The police and the security forces in the region have laid concertina wires and barricaded most of the key routes in and outside Srinagar city. Those working with the essential services including healthcare workers have also complained that their movement has become difficult.
Nasir Rashid, a postgraduate resident at Lalla Ded hospital in Srinagar alleged that he had been abused and beaten up at Jahangir Chowk in Srinagar on his way to work, despite showing his identity card.
“This is a trauma, and this will go along with me for the rest of my life. I do not know how we will compensate for this suffering” he said.
Disrupted Delivery Services Affecting Treatments
Disruption of delivery services has also led to delays in procuring medical reports and drugs at several places.
Dr Wajahat Ahmad, resident oncology at Sher-I-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS) Srinagar said that there has been a delay in receiving test results of cancer patients.
“The delay in receiving the medical test reports of cancer patients has obviously delayed their treatment. The delay has also affected the health of several cancer patients. We send tests of patients outside J&K and generally, the results and the reports come within a week. However, as the courier companies are not being allowed to work smoothly, there is a delay in receiving the medical reports,” he added.
It has been 13 years since 70-year-old Abdul Razaq Sofi of south Kashmir’s Satura village in Pulwama district is suffering from Oesophageal cancer. Due to the unfavourable situation in the valley, Sofi's son Riyaz Ahmad has been routinely purchasing medicines in bulk. “I am fully aware of the situation in J&K, anything can happen here at any time. I do not want to see my father dying for the lack of medicines. Therefore, I purchase his medicines in bulk,” said Riyaz, a farmer.
Officials at the Cancer Society of Kashmir told The Quint that due to the lockdown, cancer patients also faced transportation problems. Some patients who need emergency drugs are not being able to get them on time.
“Our medical supplier is not being able to deliver emergency drugs on time. Currently, 80 per cent of cancer drugs are getting delivered, and the rest are either delayed or not delivered at all. The suppliers often complain about the problem with the courier. Due to the lockdown, courier companies are not able to pick up and deliver medical supplies adequately,” said Shahid Farooq who works as a pharmacist at Cancer Society of Kashmir.
Police Deny Claims
A senior police officer, currently posted in the northern belt of Kashmir, denied the alleged brutalities.
“Cops have shown maximum restraint during the lockdown. Barring a few incidents, no one has been thrashed or stopped on the roads. Before allowing anyone to move, security forces, including the police, have been strictly checking identity cards and curfew passes,” he said on the condition of anonymity.
He said that unlike last year’s lockdown when people complained of harassment on the roads, there have been no such complaints this year.
When contacted, Inspector general of police Kashmir Vijay Kumar refused to comment. Deputy Commissioner Srinagar Ajaz Asad also could not be reached till the time of filing this report.
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