Road to Kashmir – II
In the winters of 2012 I was assigned to teach social science in Baltistan. Upon reaching the village deep in the foothills of Siachin, through one of the highest motorable road in the world which had just opened few months ago for the first time. I heard that hundreds of Balti students were coming back from Kashmir, hearing about the winter tuitions starting in their own village.
But the weather worsened overnight, the highest passes and roads were blocked, a passenger bus went down the mountain slipping due to heavy snow, killing four students and other people of the village who were coming back from Srinagar, stranding hundreds of others midway on the road under severe climate.
Because of such conditions, most children in these far away villages could never finish their education, even if there were buildings as schools, almost no teacher arrives as they also travel from leh, Kashmir or further down from Jammu. Upon enquiring I learnt that there is no university in whole laddakh region and each student if he or she wanted to pursue higher education has to travel under severe and dangerous conditions going critically close along with the Line of Control between India and Pakistan who have already fought four wars in the past.
I started working on 537 kilometres of tedious, nerve-wrecking, dangerous and frightening journey following students and labourers, interviewing local school authorities and children, making images along the border areas and villages. I photographed people travelling in local buses, drivers, trucks carrying goods, trenches and high passes under harsh conditions, and of the tension that looms over the people while on the journey within and outside.
With more stretches coming under the firing range of the Pakistani artillery and air defence guns, it’s a highway of terror as one bus driver called it out. There are more bunkers than houses there. The narrow winding road is littered with memorials of those killed by shellings in the past. At night, travelling with head lights on is a sure invitation for potshots from across the LOC.
Having spent acknowledgable time myself as a teacher in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, “Road to Kashmir” is an ongoing project to make education the first right, to a generation who has grown under the shadows of a war always looming over them. This work will be in existence as a proof of the lived experiences of the young students and old, who for years have been putting their lives at risk coming from far flung areas to study and work.