Amid heightened tension on the border since the killing of five Indian soldiers on Tuesday, the passengers aboard the Delhi-Lahore bus, Sada-e-Sarhad, are at ease.
The pressure to sever relations with Pakistan and stop the bus service has failed to scare them. Rather, they liked how both governments had arranged to keep the service running under increased security. With a ticket price of Rs 1,500 (including meals) for adults, it is the only affordable medium to reach relatives across the border.
At Magnolia tourist complex, where the Lahore-bound bus was to halt around 1:30 pm to allow passengers to eat, it arrived behind schedule. “It was because of the change of route for security reasons,” said Jasbir Singh Rai, Kartarpur deputy superintendent of police (DSP) who escorted the coach from Nakodar to Kartarpur.
There was no cut in the number of passengers using this service, confirmed Sada-e-Sarhad liaison officer Ghulam Akhtar, who is from Jhelum in Pakistan. “Because of the Ramzan month and the festival of Eid-ul-Fitr, the number is low these days but from August 12, we have full booking for many days. It shows people are not scared and they have faith in themselves and God,” he said.
“If the media of both sides play their role sensitively, the problem will be over certainly. Whatever tension is there, it should be dealt with at the diplomatic, bureaucratic and defence levels. Do not drag common public into it,” Akhtar added.
Muhammad Hussain of Khanpur in Pakistan, who was on way home after meeting relatives in Meerut, cannot even count how many times he has used this service. “Through it, we are able to reach relatives across the borders in an economical way. We are unaware of the tension on the border,” he said.
Agra’s Daud Ahmed was going to Karachi with son, Shadab, to attend a relative’s wedding. “Everything is normal for the common people of both sides,” he said, adding: “We cannot severe our relationship with the people across the border. There is not even an iota of fear among the passengers. Moreover, we are not afraid of death. Wherever it is destined, we’ll meet it; so why worry.”
The bus stopped at Magnolia for about 30 minutes and the passengers were given lunch. Some of them offered Namaz before meal, while police stood guard to let them pray undisturbed. Naseer Shah of Rawalpindi, driver of the Pakistani bus, dismissed the tension as media hype.
“Switch off the television and there’s no tension,” he said. “Seeing heavy security, some passengers might get afraid but during journey, everyone feels secure and comfortable. Driving on this route for the past 10 years, I have never seen any fear in the minds of passengers,” he added.
Six to seven escort vehicles is too much security for people who have done no wrong. If the media on both sides portray the real situation, people will understand each other better.
Ghulam Akhtar, Sada-e-Sarhad liaison officer from Jhehlum (Pakistan)
Only by increasing people-to-people contact, normalcy can be brought. After meeting, people realise the truth. Otherwise they have to believe propaganda. Bus service should continue.
Muhammad Hussain, passenger from Khanpur (Pakistan)
Everyone wants normalcy. People are not bothered about the tension at the border. This is an economical mode of going across. If it is stopped, we’ll see each other after years.
Daud Ahmed, passenger from Agra (India)