What all do we take for granted in the normal course of life? This is a question that has been made very real by the Covid-19 lockdown – something everyone across the world would relate to. The fact that an invisible thing which is not even a living creature has demonstrated how weak human beings are, and the fragility of the human condition. This must make us ponder over these existential questions. But there are also mundane yet meaningful issues that the virus has highlighted. One major theme of these is that we human beings are best as a community and it is the power of community that confers wisdom to us.
Nowhere is this powerfully demonstrated than in Kashmir. (Being a Kashmiri I am naturally biased toward my community and I gladly plead guilty if accused of bias). Kashmiri society has demonstrated with verve that it is a community par excellence. What we have in Kashmir is the network of relationship among people who live and enable it to function and be cohesive. Our’s has been tested time and again, but it has endured and thrived.
People have over time become resilient and it is this resilience that is helping them cope with the lockdown. It is not easy to stay away and desist from day to day routine activity which may be as basic as meeting friends, going to a coffee shop, taking a stroll, going out to town or to socialize at the local waane piand (local nook in Kashmir).
Under normal conditions these were like oxygen – which because of its abundant availability was taken for granted but the moment there is deprivation, its value becomes all too clear. Regardless, my people have braved the lockdown and endured it. If the number of shutdowns over the past 30 years were to be taken into account, it would amount to several years of closure of socio-economic activity. According to a report there have been almost 3000 days of lockdown in the last 30 years which includes both shutdown calls by separatist and curfew clampdown by the authorities.
Kashmiri community, resilient and warm as it is, but unfortunately distorted in the media in terrible and vicious terms. Stereotyping in the media creates an image of Kashmir which is not real and amid all this it is the poor Kashmiri that suffers, the Kashmiri who has endured so much but still stands up, so to speak. Someone rightly pointed out that in these unprecedented times, one place that the world can look up to for advice is Kashmir. Because for them, it was a mere return to the status quo. If nothing, it is how people in Kashmir have dealt with the lock down that proves it. I’m not for once taking the credit away from the efforts of the JK administration – led by Rohit Kansal, Shahid Chowdhary & also staff and representatives of the SMC Srinagar who have tirelessly checked the spread of the C 19 pandemic.
And, I am not sugar-coating reality here: I am stating the reality. If there are doubts let people see for themselves. It was only in February this year that Kashmir emerged from a 6 month long lockdown which started from Aug. 5. Apart from a loss of around 18000 crore ($2.3 billion) during those six months of this lockdown we had no means of communication whatsoever. No landline, cell phone or internet and even till date the 4G has not been restored in Kashmir despite the fact that internet access can be recognised as a human rights within the Indian constitutional system and more importantly to access crucial information about this deadly virus. While the material and economic losses are huge and staggering, there are losses of other nature too coping and dealing with which will take years.
But as Covid 19 takes its toll and as Kashmiris and their resilience have risen to the occasion, the place continues to be one that is grappling with extra Covid 19 conditions. Every day, something or the other happens that tears away at the narrative and discourse of normalcy trotted out. Over the past few weeks scores of army men including a colonel & a Captain, many Kashmiri militants were killed in many vicious encounters, resulting in imposing yet again a complete curfew and barring of voice calls, the 2G internet and SMS.
Hardly a day goes by without any untoward incident happening. The spectre of devastation at the encounter site in downtown Srinagar recently was heart wrenching – scores of houses gutted and families left homeless & their belongings & dreams destroyed. As the world and Kashmir grapples with corona virus, Kashmir also has to deal with legacy issues – issues that can perhaps be dealt with the resuming of the political process. While it was anguishing to hear the detention of former & first lady Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, Ali Mohammad Sagar, Shah Feasal has been extended for another 3 months other political leaders like Sajad Lone, Hilal Lone, Nayeem Akhter, Sartaj Madni, Waheed Para and Peerzada Mansoor continue to be under detention. Nothing have they done or said in any way justifies the way they are being incarcerated. Moreover, the latest Domicile Order as well as Procedure is also grossly inappropriate and unethical in as much as when everyone including the people of Jammu and Kashmir are in complete lockdown fighting for survival against Coronavirus.
As such it’s time for reconciliation & reaching out to the people of Jammu and Kashmir. As a starting point for this, let all political prisoners arrested post August 5 be released before EID, revisit the domicile law & lift all curbs on the internet and telecommunication and let the end of the pandemic and the beginning of the political process be run along parallel lines. Kashmir, its people and the country needs this.
(Tanvir Sadiq is a politician and an alumni of US’s International visitors leadership program. He was detained post August 5 & released in February 2020)