Srinagar: Riyaz Ahmad has travelled six kilometres on his motor cycle from his home in Nowhatta Srinagar to access a Public Call Office (PCO) in upscale Rajbagh to make a call to his brother who works in Dubai. Riyaz says, “A few phone booths have been established downtown since the communication blockade was put in place after the abrogation of Article 370. But they don’t have the facility to make international calls, that is why I have to come this far.”
“I have an important message to give my brother. I have no other option, but to come to this PCO to call him. Even if it takes me many hours, I will wait,” Riyaz said
In Kashmir with mobile phones and Internet communication snapped, many have switched their landlines into phone booths to earn a quick buck. The charges are Rs 2 for a one-minute STD call and Rs 20 for an ISD call.
Zahid Ahmad who started a phone booth in Jawaharnagar says, “The rush doesn’t end. More and more people keep coming to make calls. Mostly it’s the people who have to make overseas calls that come to my phone booth. We really want to help people to get in touch with their loved ones. We just don’t want to make only profit.”
The government introduced phone facilities in police stations for the benefit of the people, but many do not want to go to police stations.
“It makes no sense to go to a police station to make a phone call when we can do it from a PCO,” said Sobiya, a housewife.
Makeshift phone booths are an addition that have come at the right time in Kashmir. Until the communication blockade is lifted completely the few lines that are up and running will continue to be the only link for those living in the Valley to the outside world.