Lockdown, before lockdown

While India lulls in a long (because it has never experienced one before) lockdown due to the scary novel Coronavirus pandemic, there is time and space for its conscious people –  intellectuals, activists, academicians, politicians, educationists, Bollywood stars etc – to look back, and with some realisation attempt to retrospectively measure the pain Kashmir Valley would have undergone amid the enforced lockdown from August 5, last year. However, it would be gross miscalculation to equate Kashmir’s lock down after August 5, 2019, with the present country-wide lock down amid covid19. Because the former has become a foundational trauma of Kashmir’s new generation that was still trying to understand the facts of an unfulfilled promise  made to their forefathers seventy years back. The Kashmir lockdown was essentially unlike the present one; it was a stratagem to mute a people that was already a homo sacer.

I remember the pre and post-August 5 scenario in the Valley. In its pre scenario, Kashmir was relatively stable. Things were going fine. Tourists and Amaranth yatris were enjoying the beauty of Mughal gardens and dazzling view of mountain ranges. Daily wagers had started to earn. School children and college going youths were busy in knowing the secrets of universe and beyond. The post-era changed everything. On August 5, people woke up into a lockdown that would then be uncertain to tell about for how much time it was going to last; which of course we now know took India the long seven and more months to lift back (Although, that is another story that New Delhi is still to decide, whether 4G mobile internet should be restored in the valley or not, even among a deadly pandemic like Covid19?). Not to talk about busiest city, Srinagar and major towns of the valley, I remember how every village wore a deserted look. Inmates of every Kashmiri household, elders and children, stood around a TV set to watch not only how Kashmir’s autonomy, which had already been weakened by different political regimes in the past, was receiving a final death blow, but also how Kashmir’s identity itself was being murdered, literally. And people could do nothing but shiver around an idiot box which relayed jubilant Indian mobs celebrating the conquering of a new people and territory, a ‘territory of desire’ as Ananya J Kabir calls it. The following event of the Eid (Eid ul-Adha that was on 12th of the same month), which literally means Khushi (joy), turned into a tragedy, with people having nothing to celebrate but everything to mourn about – the loss of honour – as Kashmiris would chant among themselves chun ezath myoun ezath ….

However, this was not all; Kashmir had to fight more for life to survive. Life was reduced to ‘bare life’. Troops were everywhere. No one could dare to step out. People whispered indoors. Bleak and desolate streets; as if after grinding her teeth ghula, a female human-eating monster in Jordonian (Arabic) folklore, had been roaming to feast on anyone that was out. Leaders were detained. All of this was traumatic. And the sadder part of the story is that all channels of communication had been snapped. No mobile phone services. No landline telephone. No broadband and mobile internet to join a virtual classroom as there is now. College and university goers lost a precious academic year and no one seemed to care about that.

And above all unlike the present lockdown country wide, where every step is taken to save the human lives in the first place, it was life itself that was cheapest in the auction back then in Kashmir. Patients could not reach to hospitals. Scarcity of medicines and doctors. Precarious life. Judith Butler says rightly, “specific lives cannot be apprehended as injured or lost if they are not first apprehended as living. If certain lives do not qualify as lives, or are from the start, not conceivable as lives with certain epistemological frames, then these lives are never lived nor lost in the full sense.” With the addition of an ‘embedded reporting’ whereby journalists agree to report only from the perspective established by authorities, it is this framing of violence that has had made life miserable in Kashmir. Due to the incessant lockdowns and curfews what became of Kashmir is difficult to realise for Indian intelligentsia with a mere twenty-one days, now extended by another two weeks, lockdown. But it seems probable they might think, in their heart of hearts, what Kashmir went through post-August 5, a moment in time that would pass on as generational trauma through the phenomena of memory and post memory.

Shabeer Ahmad Khan is a PhD Research Scholar at AMU, Aligarh.