Last Train to Pakistan: How Samjhauta Suffers When Tension in the Air Trickles Down to the Tracks
The tension at the border had clearly found its way to the Old Delhi Railway station’s platform number one. While the rest of the station was crowded with people travelling to different parts of the country, this one was eerily empty.
RPF personnel conduct extraordinary security check on passengers travelling in Samjhauta Express.
New Delhi: Amid flaring cross-border tension between India and Pakistan, Ibrahim Khan, 64, wanted exactly what the name plate on the train he was about to board said – Samjhauta or compromise.
Khan had come to India via the same train on February 22. Just five days later, he was returning to Lahore to be with his wife and children during “tense times”.
The tension at the border had clearly found its way to the Old Delhi Railway station’s platform number one. While the rest of the station was crowded with people travelling to different parts of the country, this one was eerily empty, save the heavy deployment of Railway Police Force (RPF).
The Old Delhi Railway Station illuminated at night.
Khan was on the last train to Pakistan before the Indian Railways decided to suspend operations. He was accompanied by his younger brother and nephew who had come to see him off. Concern for safety was evident on all three faces. The 64-year-old man works as a cotton trader in Pakistan and was carrying food materials for his kin back home.
India has, starting March 4, suspended operations on the India-Pakistan Samjhauta Express. The decision, it said, was based on "purely operational reasons" arising from the fact that the train has been carrying very few passengers due to stoppage of services from Pakistan's side.
Meanwhile, Khan’s hurried steps towards the train came to an abrupt stop when he reached the first level of barricading on the platform. Three RPF men walked up to him and asked for his ticket and passport. This was followed by an instruction.
“You cannot carry anything but clothes and food only enough for you to finish during the journey,” said one of the RPF men.
This was not usual. Khan had travelled on the train before where he had carried ample material back to Lahore. However, the new orders were issued by the Indian Railways in the wake of the airstrikes by both India and Pakistan.
“You see what war is doing? Powerful authorities fight and common people like us suffer. Why can’t the two countries just be friendly if they cannot unite,” said Khan as he handed all of the extra luggage to his nephew. Khan’s extended family has been staying in Delhi’s Chandni Chowk ever since Partition.
Khan still had two more levels of security checking to cross before he could board the train.
Meanwhile, with 30 minutes for the train to depart, another family residing in Pakistan made their way to the platform.
A family travelling with a toddler waiting for security check to be completed.
With a thick shawl covering her head, Farida, 45, was also travelling to Lahore. She had decided to cut short her otherwise month-long trip to return home after she read “India strikes back” on Indian news channels.
She was married to a man in Pakistan and was visiting her brothers in Delhi who had come to see her off. “My husband took the decision of calling me back. All of us are praying that nothing happens. We have families on both sides of the border. We never in our lives have wanted war,” she said, shifting her heavy luggage from one hand to the other.
Little did she know that she would not be allowed to carry the clothes she had bought from New Delhi’s Palika Bazaar for her children in Pakistan.
The direct result of the conflict was also visible in the number of passengers opting to the take train.
“We have just 37 passengers today,” said the RPF men in charge of the Samjhauta Express.
Following the February 14 terror attack on a CRPF convoy in Jammu and Kashmir's Pulwama in which 40 troopers were killed, the footfall has been falling regularly.
RPF officials pictured while conducting tight security checking.
According to the Railway Ministry, last month only 100 passengers travelled via the train.
A ministry official in Delhi said that it’s a drastic fall.
"In normal times, more than 1,000 passengers would travel on each run of the Samjhauta Express from both sides," he added.
Meanwhile, the last passenger to board the train to Pakistan had reached the platform.
Farida, 33, had to wait for almost 15 minutes for her luggage to be sniffed by the RPF dog, female constables to frisk her for materials she could not carry. Following this, the train was ready to leave.
To onlookers, the train appears to be a closed call on tracks. All doors and windows were shut. The 37 passengers were inside hoping to reach safely to their families. The train, scheduled to leave at 11:10 pm, chugged off after a delay of eight minutes.
Pakistan had already halted services from across the border amid recent hostilities between the two countries. "With no passengers from Pakistan, it makes no sense to run the train from our end. The cancellation has been done for purely operational reasons. Hopefully, we will be able to resume services once tensions de-escalate," said an Indian Railways official.
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