Srinagar: Access to hospitals, food, education, information, which are basic to the daily lives of people anywhere in the world, sound like a distant dream to Kashmiris since the day the central government broke the disputed region into two Union territories.
Experts believed that the decision would be unacceptable to the people of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), so the government clamped down on all means of communication, including cellular, broadband, lease lines, landlines and imposed Section 144 with curfew.
On August 5, 2019, the lockdown in J&K started as all the streets were taken over by government forces. Checkpoint barricades and armed vehicles very placed on every road possible. Police vans moved around announcing the curfew and asking people not to come out of their homes.
Since then, Dilshada Begum, a 45-year-old resident of Baghi Mehtab, an area of Srinagar district, has no news about her son Uzair Jaan who is in Punjab pursuing BTech. The last time Uzair was home for a few weeks was in January.
“I talked to him on Sunday night, he was running out of money, he asked me to deposit some amount. I promised him that first thing in the morning I will deposit money,” said Dilshada.
On Monday morning, Dilshada woke up and tried to call her son but the cellular and internet was snapped by government authorities. She rushed to her landline but that, too, was disconnected.
“When I learned that phones are not working, I thought of going out and checking what was going on. As soon I opened the gate, I found forces outside. Before I could step out one of the policemen shouted ‘Ander Jao Curfew Hai’ (go inside its curfew,)” she says.
Dilshada turned to her neighbours for help, who told her that internet was barred.
In sum, J&K is paralysed.
“I don’t know how my son will manage food and travel, if he is required to travel home. I’m helpless,” said a teary Dilshada.
Most J&K students studying outside are facing similar problems.
The miseries for the people of state do not end here. Since Monday, Dilshada, who had subscribed to a local newspaper, Kashmir Reader, has not received it, as no newspaper hawker is being allowed to move. There is restriction on the movement of journalists, too.
“I tried to get curfew passes but couldn’t. A person who works in Srinagar’s Deputy Commissioner office is my neighbour. I asked for his help, but his reply made me realise the situation in J&K. He told me that even he is not allowed to go to his office, neither has a curfew pass been issued to him,” said Dilshad.
All shops, ration ghats, petrol pumps, educational institutes, private as well as a few government offices are locked. Many newspapers in Kashmir aren’t able to publish.
Heavy movement of armed vehicles and non-local labour leaving the state is visible on the streets. Non-local labours living in the different parts of the Valley are thronging the Tourist Reception Centre (TRC) in Srinagar to get transport and return to their homes.
Non-Local Labours At TRC. Photo Courtesy: Zubair Sofi
Ravi, who hails from Bihar, said he left his rented accommodation located in North Kashmir’s Bandipora district at around at 12 a.m on August 7, and managed to reach TRC.
“I couldn’t leave during the day due to the curfew, so I and other Biharis decided to leave at night. The landlord provided us transport and dropped us at TRC. We don’t want to stay, because we aren’t able to work. We earn daily wages, and with the same money we buy our food. Now due to the curfew our work is gone, so we have decided to go back,” Ravi said.
Non-Locals Waiting For The Bus At TRC. Photo Courtesy: Zubair Sofi
Due to shops remaining closed, people aren’t able to buy food items and many families are running out of stock.
Owais Bhat, 26, a resident of Bemina, a few kilometres away from the main city, said at around 11 p.m on August 7, he went to every part of Jawahar Nagar, an area of Srinagar to buy food.
“I have been looking for food, since yesterday, most of the things in stock are getting over. I have money but shops are shut. One person had promised to help me get some stock from a person in Jawahar Nagar, that is why I was there,” Owais said. This is the story of most of the people in Kashmir right now.
Due to lack of transport, patients aren’t able to reach hospitals, and ambulances are being used to transport hospital employees.