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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 1 New Delhi December 21, 2019 | ANNUAL NUMBER

Four Months of Suffocation: A Glimpse of Sufferings and Survival from Kashmir

Saturday 21 December 2019


by Aijaz Ahmad Turrey

On August 5, 2019 the Indian Government unilaterally issued a constitutional order of revoking Kashmir’s special status, Article 370, and bifurcation of the State into two Union Territories namely, Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh. Since then Kashmir is under constant lockdown and this is the worst one in the history of Kashmir. Kashmir today entered the 124th day of harsh crackdown, with India sending tens of thousands of troops in addition to the 800,000 troops already present there, imposing a sweeping curfew, creating chaos and-fearful environment, arresting thousands including civilians and political representatives and cutting down virtually all communications.

The siege has not just choked the economy and human lives but has alienated people from having access to rights and freedoms provided to them by the Constitution including the basic human right, the right to live, access to communication, freedom of speech, freedom of expression, etc. People even don’t have access to basic amenities to sustain. It is impossible to imagine the survival of daily wage workers as the main markets continued to remain shut and public transport off the roads. Most of the Kashmir’s economy is run by horticulture but this year they faced a setback as the siege started in the same season. Due to communications blockade people were unable to speak to traders outside Kashmir in Delhi, Kolkata, Bangalore and Patna etc. to negotiate prices. They had to settle for whatever they got. Several traders used to come to Kashmir to collect the fruit, but they cannot make the trip this year. As a result, fruits rot at home.

The Information Technology sector was an upcoming sector and there are companies which were providing services in the foreign countries and their business has been affected by the suspension of internet facilities. Sheikh Ashiq, President of the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI), said that while it was difficult to assess the nature of losses as the situation was not normal yet, the business community has received a serious jolt from which it was very difficult to recover. A number of people have lost their jobs in IT due to unavailability of work completely based on internet. Kashmir tourism remains at the peak during this season but this time suffered huge losses due to it lockdown. There was no tourist activity anywhere especially on the edges of the popular Dal lake. The other tourist places, like Gulmarg and Pahalgam, also remained deserted. Guest houses and hotels in these places were empty and this also jolted a number of people from living there. What’s more, the streets are deserted and devoid of the tourist business which had supported up to 700,000 people. There is also a shortage of skilled labour, as some 400,000 migrants have left since the lockdown began.

Kashmir’s education sector has also been the worst hit as schools and colleges remain shut and students lose more than three months of their academic career. Their minds are constantly engulfed depression. At several places bunkers and barricades were erected overnight in schools and colleges as troops occupied educational institutions across the Valley. Parents have been reluctant to send the children to school as they are unable to keep track of them because of the suspension of mobile phone services. The mobile and internet clampdown affected mostly the research scholars who are entirely dependent on internet. Job aspirants are awaiting restoration of these and are unable to find and apply jobs online. They are even unable to prepare for competitive exams.

Birth and death are the two main occasions in everyone’s life when all relatives should assemble. But people in Kashmir are dying without having their loved ones near them. They couldn’t express their last wishes to their relatives who are away from home. We can only expect but can’t feel the pain of a person who is lying on a hospital bed and sending his son to fetch his daughters and dies prior to their arrival. Without communication life is hell. If a fire breaks out people have to go by themselves to the fire service station, thus putting both their life and property at risk. The religious activities have also been hampered due to the lockdown. The Jamia Masjid in Srinagar is locked down since August 5 and people are not allowed to offer their Friday prayers there. People are not allowed to perform their religious activities. I want to ask: if not these, then what are the human rights violations? With every day passing, there is an increase in the adversities befalling the people.

People can’t get to the hospital, they can’t communicate with their loved ones, they can’t earn a living, they can’t practice religion, students can’t go to school. Everyday life is paralysed. Kashmiris have been caged and treated like animals. Kashmiris are experiencing a sense of disenfranchisement, exclusion and humiliation. The ongoing crisis has crippled almost every business—traditional ones like fruit trade and tourism and nascent ones like e-commerce and software. BBC’s reporter Vineet Khare said that the lockdown in Kashmir has cost the region’s economy more than $1bn in two months. Whereas the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry President Sheikh Ashiq Hussain claimed that the figures of loss is over Rs 15,000 crores. Kashmir is struggling for sustenance and the constant siege is enhancing their anger and misery. People are engaging in conflicts, violence and stone-pelting due to mental distress and depression. Kashmir is going through tough times and the siege has caused a huge dent to Kashmir’s economy. As human beings it is our duty to speak out about what’s going on in Kashmir and how long the Kashmiris will have to suffer? Such situation as prevails there now will never restore peace in Kashmir. A peaceful and stable society is only possible when there are equal opportunities for all and respect for the rights and freedoms of all.

The author is a Ph.D student, Centre for Studies in Economics and Planning, School of Social Sciences, Central University of Gujarat, Gandhinagar.

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