Wabah-2019 and lockdown in rural Kashmir

Covid-2019 if roughly translated in Kashmiri  would mean the “Wobah-2019” which is now a global pandemic. The growing incidence of the pandemic in the Kashmir valley is a matter of worry. Kashmir has a miserable history of epidemics in the course of its history. The reporting  of death and destruction largely took place in urban Srinagar which can give us an idea  of what  must have happened in rural Kashmir. It is precisely for this reason that the divisional administration needs to tighten its screws in deep rural clusters so as to keep the population safe in its fight against Covid -19.

Historical overview

Cholera has been historically a major reason for death in Kashmir. The first officially recoded epidemic was in 1857. The horrible years were  1888, 1892, 1900, 1907 and 1910. Ten thousand lives were lost in 1888. The 1892 epidemic resulted in 5,781 deaths in Srinagar alone. Sir Walter Lawrence writes about the epidemic of 1892: All business was stopped and the only shops which remained open were those of sellers of white cloth for winding sheets…..The long lines of coffins borne to the graveyards resembled an endless regiment on the march……..Men telling me how they lost all members of the family” Mr. Tyndale-Biscoe the founder of legendary Biscoe school writes about the cholera of 1902: The epidemic of 1902 was my first experience of this terrible visitation. The people were terribly scared, offices and schools were closed and the people sat in their hoses as they said, waiting to die….Ten thousand deaths were reported in the city, there must have been hundreds more unreported”. Similarly for fighting a disease like smallpox  a British missionary doctor Ernest Neve records  that authorities took vigorous measures, at first burning down all plague-infested houses…..the disease apparently died but persisted in some isolated villages near Wullar Lake. The mortality all through was terrible—- over 95 percent”.

Covid-19 and District Administration

It is in the above context that administration needs to enforce the lockdown in the rural Kashmir in a more strict manner. The lockdown is  a success in urban areas  but needs to be enforced in rural periphery as well. The fight against Covid-19 is to be fought at all levels  but will be won or lost in the rural areas where for understandable reasons there are problems in enforcement. In the the deep pockets of rural Kashmir the writ of the state is weak and institutions of governance particularly the law enforcement agencies are unable to enforce the lockdown. God-forbid, if the pandemic encroaches into those deep pockets it will not only create havoc in the periphery but even urban health services will come under severe  pressure so much so that systems can easily collapse. The district administration needs to tame and utilize time tested mechanisms and old  institutional framework at this hour of crisis. Historically, the local elite of the village power structure can be employed to enforce the lockdown. The Awquaf president, Sarpanch, Lambardar, head master of the local school and Imam of the local mosque can together, be constituted into a mechanism to be made accountable to law enforcement organs of the state. The SHO and Naib Tehsildar at block level can coordinate. The Awquaf  president can be head of this institutional framework and can be asked to hold regular meetings to address problems of the village or cluster of villages and simultaneously enforce the lockdown. The problems related to agricultural activities can also be best understood by this committee. This mechanism needs to be made accountable and answerable for their day-to-day functions. The administration needs to understand that in spite of urban  and consumerist  dent in village habitat  there still are internal solidarities left which can take care  of  day to day problems of the people  lessening the burden on local administration. The element of fear rather than force can be used so as to ensure that there is no movement internally in the villages. The fact that Covid-19 so far appears to be more an urban phenomenon should not prove illusionary. It is urban for the simple reason that migration happens in the urban areas and even the first Covid victim in Kashmir (though from Sopore area) was living in the Srinagar city.