When Lockdown 1.0 was imposed nationwide on 25 March, the people of Kashmir were caught terribly off guard. With a very strict lockdown imposed, local residents did not have sufficient supplies of groceries, medicines, life-saving drugs or other essentials. To make matters worse, local NGOs weren’t able to operate freely to distribute these essentials.
That’s when 33-year-old Sheikh Aadil Mushtaq, a 2015 batch Jammu and Kashmir Police Service officer currently posted as Deputy Superintendent of Police (Traffic) in Srinagar, and about eight of his friends from different walks of life, came up with the idea of helping deliver daily essentials and medicines to the doorstep of needy residents.
Since Lockdown 1.0, Deputy SP Sheikh Aadil and his friends have delivered daily essentials and medicines to over 1,000 households, predominantly in Srinagar. But they have even reached out to residents in Anantnag, Baramulla, Bandipora and Ganderbal.
Following the end of Lockdown 1.0, Deputy SP Sheikh Aadil has even coordinated efforts to collect blood plasma from patients who have recovered from COVID-19 and supplied free oxygen concentrators to families whose loved ones were battling with the virus. So far, he has managed to get over 150 recovered patients to voluntarily donate their blood plasma.
Speaking to The Better India under conditions of anonymity, a senior journalist from Srinagar, who has closely covered the Kashmir Valley for more than a decade, says, “Sheikh Aadil has gone above and beyond the ambit of standard policing. During these difficult times, he is reaching out to the people directly. I hope other civil servants in Kashmir take his lead.”
Passion for policing
Born and raised in Baramulla district, Sheikh Aadil is a product of St. Joseph’s Higher Secondary School, who went on to complete his M.Tech in civil engineering from the University of Pune. Prior to joining the Kashmir Police Service, he had worked as a civil engineer in the erstwhile State’s rural development department and even served as an officer on special duty to the Chief Minister for a couple of months.
“However, I soon realised that my passion didn’t lie in engineering but in public service, particularly policing. Many of us identify our passions very late in life. Had I continued as an engineer, I wouldn’t have made a good one. I am not claiming to be a great police officer yet, but I would have definitely made a bad engineer because my heart was not in it,” says Sheikh Aadil.
After being inducted into the police, he completed his probation in Udhampur, where he courted controversy after a video clip emerged of him removing the tinted film from Kashmir University Vice Chancellor Professor Khurshid Andrabi’s vehicle in December 2016. While many criticised him for his actions, the officer maintained that he was just doing his duty.
Following stints as Deputy Superintendent of Police (Security) and DSP (Operations) in Srinagar, he was finally posted this year as the Dy SP (Traffic) in Srinagar.
“There is great scope for public service here and you can do a lot of good for the people. In our part of the world, police is seen as more of a power than an authority. When people submit themselves to legitimate authority, they submit themselves to legitimate power. But here the police are seen as merely a power and not a legitimate authority. Since I joined the service, my desire has been to change this perception,” he says.
COVID Hero in Kashmir
When Sheikh Aadil and his friends decided to come together and help those in need, they initially created three WhatsApp groups to coordinate efforts.
“I had appealed to people that whosoever is in need of essentials or medicines can convey their requirements directly to me or the WhatsApp numbers I had shared. One WhatsApp group was dedicated to free medicine requests, the second for free home delivery of medicines and the third for free groceries. In the initial phase of the lockdown, we received some support from the district administration. We would send our requests to them for certain essential items and they would get it delivered. Moreover, I decided to deploy 15 motorcyclists of the Traffic Police in Srinagar, who are usually deployed for traffic regulation and enforcement. Since there wasn’t much traffic to regulate on the streets, we utilised their services for the home delivery of groceries, rations and medicines,” he says.
Parallely, however, Sheikh Aadil and his friends selected a few pharmacies from whom they would purchase medicines for families who couldn’t afford them. They shared the cost of buying these medicines and on occasions even received some discounts. To ensure all of them contributed equally, they maintained a strict account. When it came to groceries, they regularly contributed in kind. Some would regularly come with five bags of rice, while others contributed 100 kgs of flour or 10 kgs of pulses, etc. He would coordinate these initiatives.
“Once the lockdown restrictions were slightly relaxed, we had local volunteers who would not only club these requests coming through from various WhatsApp groups on a dedicated excel sheet, but also deliver necessary items whether it was medicines, groceries, etc. For medicines, we would only accept original prescriptions and then would purchase them. These were local volunteers, which include my friends. On various occasions, I would go and deliver these essentials personally,” notes the Deputy Superintendent of Police.
At no point did Sheikh Aadil and his friends directly take cash donations for their initiatives. Either they spent money out of their own pocket or contributed in kind. Even when it came to purchasing oxygen concentrators for patients, they teamed up with a local non-profit.
The Wall of Kindness
When the Central government announced Unlock 1.0 on 8 June and calls for groceries and medicines dropped, the police officer and his friends started another WhatsApp group to facilitate the donation of blood plasma and oxygen concentrators. Called ‘COVID-19 Community Help’, it’s the only WhatsApp group currently functional.
“Following Unlock 1.0, we shifted our focus to blood plasma donation, blood donation and oxygen concentrator supply. This is working fabulously well. Our volunteers have kept a close track of patients admitted into various hospitals in Srinagar for COVID-19 treatment. A database of these patients is maintained. Once these patients are discharged from the hospital, we contact them and ask whether they would like to volunteer for blood plasma donation. Before they contribute, we ensure that they undergo an antibody count to check whether they are fit for donation and a data bank is maintained accordingly. Whenever we receive a call from hospitals seeking assistance, we contact the recovered patient and ask if they want to donate their blood plasma,” says Sheikh Aadil.
Following up with these initiatives, he established a ‘Wall of Kindness’ outside his office on 13 November (World Kindness Day), where people can donate whatever they want for residents of Srinagar suffering through the pandemic.
“The idea is to offer charity with dignity. The best feature of this wall is that recipients don’t know who’s giving and those donating don’t know who it’s for. The donations left at the wall are picked up by whoever needs them. That is how we are ensuring the dignity of those in need. The idea of setting it up outside my office is that I want to supervise this round the clock. People are dropping items ranging from sanitary pads, groceries, warm cloths to kangris (charcoal pots that keep you warm in winters). I have also set up supplies of tea and coffee next to the Wall of Kindness so that anyone wanting to keep warm can grab a free cup there,” he claims.
Looking ahead, Sheikh Aadil wants to continue with these initiatives and come up with other ones that can help the vulnerable in Kashmir.
“In a society like Kashmir, people have suffered a lot. The police’s main job has been to deal with law and order. The police are a part of society and they should reach out to the people. While dealing with the scourge of militancy, army personnel have been largely brought from outside the region, whereas the police are from here. The magnitude of initiatives like the ones started by Dy SP Sheikh Aadil Mushtaq must increase,” says another senior journalist from the Valley who doesn’t wish to be named.
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)