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Nights in Baramulla: Writing Letters Never Meant to be Sent

The lockdown in J&K is taking a toll on family relations and personal lives.

In the more than one month of communication clampdown imposed on Kashmir, every aspect of life in the Valley has suffered. The economy has been shattered, colleges and universities remain shut, parents are cut off from their children studying outside Kashmir and children are unable to reach their families in the Valley. There is also a medical emergency, as international media reports indicate, which the political dispensation in Delhi has been denying. 

Amidst all this gloom, there is another section of society that is feeling alone and depressed, and those are the couples of Kashmir. The married, the boyfriends and girlfriends, those engaged, and those who would have been engaged or married, if not for the events that unfolded on August 5. On that day, a security lockdown was imposed that ended communications within the Valley and between the rest of the country and Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). 

Just like the parents from Kashmir who tried (often in vain) to get in touch with their children during this breakdown in communications, the young are also trying their very best to reach out to their loved ones. This story of couples who are finding it difficult to communicate with each other begins with a revival: The art of letter-writing is making a comeback now that SMS, phone calls and WhatsApp have been ruled out by state diktat. The old pen-on-paper love-note is back, and that is what these couples hope, will keep their love going too.  

“From August 4 to August 22, I had no news of her. I went to her home twice but could not meet her. Finally, I approached one of her close friends who lives close to her house,” says Harris from Baramulla in North Kashmir. Harris and Sana were supposed to get married on August 21, but the wedding was put off due to the communication blockade and the pall of uncertainty and gloom that has descended on the Valley by the sudden abrogation of J&K’s special status on August 5. 

Now Harris could only reach Sana once, and that was through her friend, who informed Sana that he was waiting outside her home. Such a meeting is risky in a sense, for Kashmir’s patriarchal society does not ordinarily allow betrothed couples to meet each other unsupervised. So, over the past few weeks, Harris has written several letters to Sana, but here lies a twist. As long as there is a clampdown, he has no means to have the letters delivered. “When we met for few minutes outside her residence, the only thing that we exchanged were the letters. She said nothing, I kept mum. Our eyes talked to each other,” says Harris.

Just like the engaged couples, married couples are also finding it difficult to contact their spouses. “I am travelling to Singapore. My wife does not know that I am travelling to Singapore. I have sent a pen-drive full of my videos for my wife back home,” says Tahir Masood, an executive from Kashmir. 

Masood left his home in Kashmir on August 17, to finish some work for his office and was supposed to be back home by August 25. “But I had to suddenly make a trip to Singapore for a meeting and there was no working phone back home. So, I thought better to make videos and send those to my wife,” Masood says. While Masood was in Delhi, where his company’s office is located, he took help from other travelers headed back to the Valley to send the videos to Sopore, where his wife lives with the rest of his family. 

The government has restored communication—landlines only—in a phased manner in J&K. While there was almost 15 days of no connection between the Valley and the world outside, it is taking still more time to restore mobile connectivity. While other parts of J&K—now a newly-inaugurated Union Territory, do enjoy cellular phone connections by now, the Kashmir Valley region has remained cut off. 

It is believed that hundreds, if not thousands of marriages, were cancelled in the Valley after New Delhi unilaterally revoked the special status of the only Muslim-majority state, J&K. “My would-be husband, Sameer, is in Delhi. We have not communicated since the communication was thrown out of gear in Kashmir,” says Nigeena, from Bijbehara in South Kashmir, who has been desperately trying to get in touch with her fiancé since August 5. 

So out of use were landline phones in the Valley—as is the case anywhere in India—that Nigeena’s fiancé does not even have it saved on his mobile, written somewhere or committed to memory. Therefore, although her family’s landline connection has been restored of late, he still cannot reach her. “We had never exchanged landline numbers because we had the Jio cellular network,” Nigeena says. Now, she has been requesting people to take the landline number to her fiancé. Nigeena and Sameer, who is from Anantnag, were to get married in September. However, their wedding has been postponed indefinitely as of now. 

The Other Side

Like the common Kashmiris are suffering, the government forces on the ground that have been deployed to ensure ‘peace’ in the trouble-torn Union Territory are also cut off from families and homes. In the Batmaloo area of Srinagar, where there is a checkpoint where passers-by are stopped for checking, a middle-aged Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) officer from Punjab says, “I have not spoken with my family back in Punjab since August 5,” said an officer. He then explains how communicating with near and dear ones is a kind of perk for those on the higher end of the hierarchy in the CRPF. “The phones remain only with the higher-up officials. I have two daughters. I have no news of them. I have aged parents and a wife. It seems ages since I have talked to all of them,” the two-star CRPF officer says. 

“I do miss my wife. But I miss my daughters more. I wish I could reach back home soon. I just want to tell my daughters that their father misses them a lot,” he says, somberly. The members of these forces are sailing in the same boat as far as communicating with their loved ones is concerned. 

Daanish Bin Nabi is a journalist based in Kashmir. 


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