Kashmir: Fresh Communication Blockade Adds to Crisis Amid COVID-19 Pandemic
Srinagar: Severe restrictions and communication blockade has worsened the crisis in Kashmir after authorities in the region intensified the clampdown following the killing of top militant commander Riyaz Naikoo on Wednesday.
The communication blackout in the Valley has caused a major obstruction in the response against COVID-19 outbreak and hindered the lives of those already reeling under the crisis in the wake of the pandemic.
The administration has marked the entire Kashmir valley as a "red zone" based on their assessment of the COVID-19 situation which has claimed nine lives so far and infected as many as 793 persons in the union territory.
With the mobile calling services and internet snapped, residents say the lockdown is reminiscent of the severe clampdown enforced by the government in the region since August last year as Article 370 was abrogated in the region.
The online classes for students which were already marred by slow speed internet in the region have also been abruptly stopped. The students have no contact with the teachers, while teachers have lost contact with schools or their administration.
Except for marginal BSNL postpaid networks and broadband connections all telecom networks have been shutdown since the Pulwama encounter in which Naikoo was killed.
The new restrictions have hit relief work and many volunteers who have been delivering essentials including medicines are apprehensive that they won’t be informed about when and where a medical emergency arises.
"We are living in a laboratory and I feel like a lab rat...there is always one reason or the other for the government to carry out repressive orders. In case of an emergency at home, I have no idea what to do," a resident of Srinagar Mohammad Zubair told NewsClick. Zubair's wife is not keeping well and is undergoing treatment after she developed pregnancy complications earlier last month.
None of the helplines created by the government for people within Kashmir are of any assistance and for students stranded outside, the circumstances are equally precarious.
The parents of Aaqib Hussain, a medical student in Delhi, have a medical condition and he says it is important to remain in constant touch with them. "It's a pity that they turned off the communication at a time when it's supposed to be the main weapon against COVID-19 pandemic. I haven't been able to talk to my family since three days now. My parents have medical conditions and I have to keep updating them about the precautions, how do I do that now?," he questioned.
Aaqib is stranded in Delhi and has been making efforts to reach out to the designated J&K adminstration's nodal official, too, but to no avail. "The nodal officer has switched her phone off since the day she was made in-charge. This is a mockery of things," he added.
In Kashmir, the lockdown has been too "strict," according to residents, unlike what they witnessed in places outside the region.
"The lockdown has always been strict here since the beginning and you cannot move outside to even buy essentials. Every time I am outside my house to buy something, I feel like walking in a military siege with snipers ready to take a shot if I expose myself to them," Waseem, a resident of Rawalpora, told NewsClick.
The situation has been stressful for everyone - officials, healthcare workers, businessmen, municipality workers and those working from home - since the lockdown began. As most people like shopkeepers and businessmen struggled, many professionals were trying hard and working from home. After struggling with the COVID-19 lockdown, the fresh communication shutdown has also put them at the risk of losing work.
"I have lost contact with my colleagues. As if problems due to limited 2G internet were not enough, they ended it completely," Asif, who works as a consultant for a Mumbai based restoration firm, said.
The restrictions were tightened after sporadic but intense protests broke out against the killing of Naikoo, who commanded militant outfit Hizbul Mujahideen in Kashmir. Naikoo's killing by security forces is seen as an achievement in counter-insurgency but, also as a reason for the further deterioration of situation in the Valley.
With the current blackout amid the ongoing lockdown, much like last year’s August clampdown, the Valley has slipped back into oblivion.
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