Jammu: Reminiscent of the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from the valley in the early 1990s, Muslims caught this time between stone-throwers and security forces are moving from Srinagar to Jammu in the dark of the night.
'I didn't inform anyone in the neighbourhood where I was headed,' Abid Ahmad, who left Srinagar and came here with his family a week ago, told IANS on the condition that his locality be not disclosed as it could spell trouble whenever he returned.
Many like Ahmad are fleeing the strife-torn Kashmir Valley - where violent protests and clashes have left over 100 dead in the past three months - to escape the stones hurled by mobs and the retaliatory guns of security forces. And they usually undertake their journey to Jammu, 294 km south, between 3 a.m. and 4 a.m.
'It's the time when stone-throwers are resting and the policemen are busy warming themselves around bonfires on roadsides,' said Ahmad, who started his journey from Sringar along with his family at 3 a.m.
While Kashmir is a Muslim-majority area, Jammu is dominated by Hindus.
Over 100 families, according to unofficial estimates, might have reached Jammu post-Eid (Sep 11), when mobs went on the rampage in Srinagar, burning government offices after prayers. And the trend is continuing.
Because of this, Jammu, the state's winter capital, is witnessing quite a buzz in its hotels, resthouses and rented accommodations much ahead of the bi-annual shift in the seat of the government.
Said Ramprakash Sharma, a property dealer: 'In the past week, I've arranged rented accommodation for 15 Kashmiri families. This number is unusually high...Earlier Kashmiris used to come for winter months only.'
The valley has been seeing an unending cycle of violence since June 11, where hurling of stones shows the anger of youth, and the police react with bullets.
Apart from claiming the lives of over 100 civilians, the violence has left a large number wounded. Life there has come to a standstill, with shops, schools, banks and other institutions closed due to separatist-sponsored shutdowns and the curfew imposed by authorities in an attempt to maintain calm.
Sharing their miseries, the migrants tell their Kashmiri Hindu friends, who had migrated to Jammu 20 years ago: 'Now we know why the Pandits fled and that too in the darkness of night.'
Over 300,000 Kashmiri Pandits living in the valley migrated when violence erupted there in 1990. Most of them came to Jammu and were housed by the government in various camps on the edges of the city. They had to initially live in tents until the authorities built one-room tenements for them.
The recent migrants from the valley curse everyone responsible for turning their lives into a nightmare -- the stone-throwers, separatists, policemen and the 'non-existing' government.
'I had to face stone-throwers almost every day...they would physically assault me. And the policemen would threaten me for driving during curfew,' said Mohammad Sultan, a driver with a government department who has shifted his family here.
But he will return to the valley for his job.
'They all are looking after their (own) interests...not knowing the pain of the common people,' Sultan rued.
But it's not that easy in Jammu either. Here they face many questions -- hotels ask for identity cards, and policemen visit them to verify all sorts of details. And they are scared of disclosing too much to the police, fearing some might give out their details to the stone throwers back home.
Asked if the government was doing anything, a young girl said: 'Which government are you talking about? (Hardline separatist leader) Syed Ali Geelani runs the government of stone-throwers, who stone people...and the Omar Adullah government is non-existent.'
The girl, now showing signs of depression, narrated how her car was stoned and the policemen fled the scene in a locality in downtown Srinagar.
A 39-member all-party delegation led by union Home Minister P. Chidambaram visited Jammu and Kashmir for two days to get a sense of the ground situation before deciding on steps to defuse tensions.
But its visit also caused problems for people here Tuesday. 'We were checked at every place and asked not to venture out because the delegation was here,' said a harassed Kashmir University professor who arrived here Monday.
Most of those from the valley say they are just waiting to undertake the journey back home in daylight -- when stone-throwers retreat and curfew is lifted.