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Grief, alienation, trauma: Kashmir under lockdown

Police in Kashmir confronting violent protesters December 2018. Image by Seyyed Sajed Hassan Razavi, Tasnim News Agency via Wikipedia. CC BY 4.0.

Police in Kashmir confronting violent protesters in December 2018. Image by Seyyed Sajed Hassan Razavi, Tasnim News Agency via Wikimedia Commons. CC BY 4.0.

This story is by Kabir, a writer based in Kashmir. Check out Global Voices’ special coverage “Inside Kashmir's Crisis”.

Over the months leading up to August 2019, Kashmir had been in the news for a variety of reasons — political, human rights violations, and the often-peddled India-Pakistan rhetoric.

But August was different. The massive build-up of troops was ominous, and indicated that India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi was planning something big and horrendous in the valley, which both India and Pakistan claim in its entirety. The urgent circulars to armed forces and government offices sent Kashmir residents into a tailspin of fear and chaos, while mainland Indians on pilgrimage or tours were asked to leave the valley immediately.

Everyone tried second-guessing the outcome, to no avail. Doomsday scenarios were whispered in hushed tones as people began stocking up on essentials.

On the morning of August 5, 2019, everyone in Kashmir woke up to a complete blackout. There was no mobile or internet service. A shrill silence fell over the state as neighbours sat in silence.

Within a few hours, Prime Minister Modi announced the abrogation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status, that the state would be divided into union territories, and also the changing of various state-specific laws.

We Kashmiris felt betrayed. But the decision was lauded in the Indian nationalist press, with publications such as Times Now and Republic calling it a brave decision.

Indigenous Kashmiris were under siege, with schools shut and hospitals out of reach amid a curfew. Reporting the on-the-ground realities — one of the cornerstones of journalism — was forgotten, as Indian media spent the first few days in celebration, and information filtered through them offered no crucial context for local Kashmiris.

We struggled to connect with our loved ones in different regions of the state and had no clue about major political and social developments. People travelled for miles in the searing heat, spending large sums of money just to access healthcare with no respite whatsoever.

The observances for the Islamic festival of Eid on August 12 were muted. We did not celebrate, merely offering prayers in the morning as dictated by religious practice. For the children there were no toys or sweets, as we were barely surviving on the bare essentials.

As is the case with any sort of curb on freedoms, people were impacted heavily both emotionally and physically, and started buying food and other essentials at highly inflated prices despite financial constraints. In times of crisis, even basic survival seems like an uphill task.

Barbed-wire in front of government houses and bridges. Image by Fatima Jahan. Used with permission.

Grief

Every street was filled with fear and grief. Nobody was aware of the happenings in other households, not to mention happenings around the world. People who were believed to have any semblance of political affiliation were caged and transported to jails outside the state.

Kashmir — already the largest militarized zone on earth — was converted into a garrison of forces. The extraordinary situation worsened the health of my mother, who has been on medication for diabetes. Lack of medicine and transportation made matters worse, and we had to seek help from a kind local man who dropped us at the hospital gates in Srinagar.

We were handed prescriptions and a limited quantity of medicine, as the doctors said medicines had to be rationed so that there would be enough for everyone in the event of a further crisis. We also failed to procure the medicine from local pharmacies, and after walking for over seven miles my mother’s feet were swollen, bringing alive my worst fears about her frail health.

Even my sister, who suffers from cardiac issues, could not access healthcare for months, and we could not contact an ambulance or a private vehicle for emergencies. It was the darkest phase of our lives. To overcome anxiety and depression, my father started smoking heavily, while I dived into the world of books to keep the stress at bay, but with minimal success.

One morning, as I pored over Fyodor Dostoevsky’s “Crime and Punishment”, a friend walked in with grim and heart-breaking news: a childhood friend who had been dealing with a chronic illness had died. One of my dearest school friends, though I had lost touch with her. The news shook me. The internet is crucial — phones in the 21st century are nothing without internet connectivity. And lives are lost and connections temporarily severed whenever there's an internet shutdown.

Not believing the news, I kept restlessly looking at my phone, hoping there would be a signal, even for a split second, that would allow me to talk to her. The panic only worsened my feelings of helplessness and isolation. Eventually, I decided to seek help and confided in a friend about my paranoia, and we decided to walk in the blistering heat to my friend’s house, as all modes of transport had stopped running.

We walked for hours in the humidity. Upon reaching her house, we were informed of her death. I crumpled to the floor as the memories hit me, and the human cost of a political mess became even clear.

I kept dreaming about her life and was sleepless for over two months. Then I collected myself and mustered the courage to seek mental health counselling. It helped a bit, but when you find yourself in a loop of unending tragedy, nothing ever remains the same — ever.

The impact of Modi’s decision is clear. The blackout has alienated Kashmiris even further, in their hearts and their minds alike. There is no other way to look at it.

The removal of Article 370 may or may not impact the people of the Kashmir valley, but the treatment meted out to us only reminds us about the brutal occupation of our land. The cruelty inflicted on us has resulted in far worse human tragedies. But these things refuse to leave our minds and will only strengthen our desire for an independent land.

Check out Global Voices’ special coverage The Kashmiri People Versus the Indian State.

1 comment

  • javed

    SUFFERING KASHMIRIS:
    While whole world is busy in fighting coronavirus, India found an opportunity to further crush and oppress Kashmiris by imposing new orders of domicile in Kashmir. Mr.Modi and Mr.Shah want to avoid the world action in between the coronavirus crisis and snatch Kashmir from Kashmiris. UN and all world countries and organizations must take notice of this and ask for freedom rights of Kashmiris.

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