Impact of Lockdown in Kashmir
Just before the whole world went into lockdown, Kashmir was coming out of one.
At the start of the year, before the coronavirus hit, the Indian government had been slowly lifting the restrictions on movement and communication that it had imposed in August 2019, when it stripped Kashmir’s long-held constitutional autonomy and imposed direct rule from Delhi. Here in India’s only Muslim-majority territory, residents were confined to their homes by soldiers patrolling the streets of the Kashmir Valley and also cut phone lines and Internet connections.
In late January, after nearly six months cut off from the world, the Kashmir Valley was limping back to normal. But soon after the first case of COVID-19 was detected in Kashmir later in March,the region was plunged into lockdown once again, with new rules against movement and social gatherings. Mosques, normally full five times a day for prayers, are empty, and markets closed.
Jammu and Kashmir continues to be in a social, economic, political and communication lockdown since August 5, 2019.The lockdown imposed by the Union government is now doubly reinforced by the coronavirus pandemic.
The communication lockdown – permitting only 2G internet, premised on the assumption that faster internet speeds help terrorists – is causing havoc not only in banking, trade, business and healthcare but in the field of education as well. The 2G technology cannot sustain online learning, which is a ready option being used in the rest of the country.
The economy is also in disarray.For a state that is heavily dependent on tourism and horticulture, the lockdown has meant that two tourist seasons have passed without any business and the marketing of fruit produce has been hampered severely. Artisans face distress and dealers in handicrafts are unable to function with piling up of stocks. No relief measures have been announced for them. Unlike in the rest of India, the slowdown of the economy in J&K, has been more severe and sustained in recent years, especially since August, 2019. The general scheme for deferment/staggering of bank loans, as per the guidelines of the RBI, does not provide any significant relief in J&K.
In addition, the people of J&K are overwhelmed by the coronavirus pandemic and the lack of healthcare infrastructure to deal with its spread. This is particularly so in Kashmir Valley, where the people infected are far larger in number compared to Jammu.
The lockdown has already disproportionately hurt marginalized communities due to loss of livelihood and lack of food, shelter, health, and other basic needs. With very little savings and a poor social security net, families are having fewer meals, borrowing money and braving the threat of police violence in order to go out and work. Women have been the worst victims of the lockdown for various reasons, financial, physical and social.
In Kashmir, there is a huge increase in the number of domestic violence cases against women during the lockdown. While staying at home 24 hours a day, some women are being harassed and tortured by their husbands. This lockdown has led to unprecedented hardships for pregnant women too, as they are found to be more vulnerable to the Covid-19 virus. Maternity hospitals have stopped functioning properly due to the shortage of staff and lack of infrastructure like operation theatres. With most of the ambulance services diverted for COVID-19 related activities and suspension of transportation facilities, women in labour are finding it increasingly difficult to access maternal health services.
A woman in Anantnag, Jammu & Kashmir, who gave birth to stillborn twin babies and later died, was found to be COVID-19 positive. This incident has brought about multiple conflicts between the family of the woman, the hospital and the district administration. Her family and the district administration alleged that the woman passed away due to neglect from the hospital, while the hospital stated that they provided her with immediate care as she came alone to the hospital at an advanced stage of labour and they were unaware of which geographical area she had come from or that she had COVID-19.
Even before the phenomenal political and constitutional changes brought about in August, 2019, which saw the beginning of lockdown in KASHMIR, at least six months before the lockdown pursuant to the Covid Pandemic, created multiple miseries for the majority of the people of Kashmir. The major impact of this has manifested in the exponential increase in mental health problems, creating severe unrest amongst the people. Kashmir is witnessing an alarming increase in instances of depression, anxiety and psychotic events due to the continued lockdown. A good section of the youth, cutting across age and gender, have taken to consumption of drugs, which has also increased the extent of social ills.
Young boys are picking up guns because of a sense of alienation, identity crisis, feeling of being wronged, social issues and feelings that Kashmiris were being victimized and discriminated against in Kashmir as well as the rest of the country.
There are teenagers who are traumatized by violence; mothers too worried about their children who are in detention at unknown locations; businessmen who owe a mountain of debt that is growing higher and higher under a lockdown that has shuttered nearly everything.
Even so, the lessons from the world’s longest lockdown appear to be less about epidemiology than democracy itself. Sad that even in the 21st century, in the middle of a global pandemic, 8 million people can be deprived of access to education, livelihood, entertainment, and mental health respite via a medium that has become an essential service for the rest of the world.