Is Current Lockdown Changing Perceptions About Kashmir

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Picture Courtesy – Reuters

With parallels being drawn between Pandemic Lockdown across India and Political Lockdown in Kashmir, many expect ‘a change of heart’ in the caged citizenry in post-pandemic world.

Mrinal Pathak

Caught in a captive lockdown for the first time in his life, Gagandeep Sharma keeps thinking about the restriction-ridden Kashmiris these days.

But even as the weary indoor routine gets on his nerves, the 22-year-old student from Punjab University feels that the acerbic TV media’s biased Covid-19 coverage might once again rob the room for introspection.

“I don’t think there’s any change in the state of mind or point of view,” Sharma, a confident chap, says in a cheery style.

“I talked to some of my Hindu middle-class uncles and they just say we’re in a health emergency and Kashmir is facing another crisis. They don’t think there’s any comparison.”

Unless Hindu middle class understands Kashmir from the point of view of a Kashmiri and commentary of people who have worked in Kashmir, Sharma continues, there cannot be any change in the thought of the majority of Indians.

“This debate has just been reduced to another tool which is eroding liberals and left-wingers who’ve chosen to express their thoughts by comparing the two lockdowns,” he says.

Parallels are being drawn between the chronic political lockdown of Kashmir and the pandemic lockdown in India at a time when the world is witnessing the worst crisis, after World War-II

The COVID-19 pandemic has engulfed the entire globe. More than 14 lakh people have been reported infected by novel coronavirus worldwide with the gigantic death toll of 88 thousand.

The death toll due to COVID-19 rose to 166 with the number of cases of 5,734 in India. The Government of India has imposed the world’s biggest ever lockdown by restricting the movement of over 1.3 billion people.

In J&K, four persons, three from Kashmir and one from Jammu, have already lost their lives due to COVID-19.

But while India battles this invisible enemy by remaining inside their homes, a section of society has started giving a thought to earlier curfews imposed in Kashmir, and the northeastern Indian states.

Even as a Kashmiri student studying in Dehradun says, “We [Kashmiris] are used to this kind of life”, there seems a clear perceptive change in many captive Indians right now, when the social media is going berserk with the trends like: Lockdown Asks, ‘How Does it Feel?’

Abhay Mokashi, a Mumbai-based senior scribe, while talking about the social media-fuelled lockdown comparisons, says, “I feel there cannot be any comparison, as the [current] lockdown is in the interest of the people, whereas the [conflict] curfew in J&K was in the interest of the Union government.”

And therefore, Mokashi cautions, drawing a parallel would be dangerous, as those who do not use logic and do not contemplate would not be able to understand the difference.

Unlike Sharma and Mokashi, Indu Kaushik, a principal at a government school in Haryana, holds different views.

Priority should be saving lives, she believes.

“If the government imposes curfew in J&K to establish peace, then that move of the government is completely justified,” she opines.

Now also, she adds, the Narendra Modi-led BJP government has imposed this lockdown for the safety of the citizens only.

Kaushik thinks that the two situations cannot be compared but believes that the motive behind both is “to save lives”.

Many endorse Kaushik’s lockdown comparison views.

A Haryana government employee, for instance, says, he would always support the lockdown in Kashmir ‘for saving lives’.

“Similarly,” he continues, “the current lockdown is also to save lives and thus I support both the decisions of the government.”

However, he disagrees with the government when it comes to the period for which Kashmir was locked down.

“I don’t support the government on such a long lockdown in the state,” he says. “It should have ended most probably after two months.”

While only time will tell, if the mindset of the majority of Indians in this direction changes or not, Saloni Goyal, a 28-year-old research scholar at National Institute of Technology, Kurukshetra doesn’t seem much hopeful.

“You know how hysteric people of this country are,” she says.

However, Jang Bahadur Tanwar, a 59-year-old retired bank employee does not agree with Goyal.

He counters her by saying, “We will definitely see behavioural changes in this regard in people living outside J&K.”

Restrictions, Tanwar says, always lead to more and more desire for freedom “but only time will tell whether the changes will be positive or negative”.

Amid this discourse, many Kashmiris feel that those who haven’t lived under constant state of lockdown can never feel the pain of a native Kashmiri.

Sunita Devi, 48, a resident of Bhadson village in Haryana agrees to this narrative.

She says, “People will only realise the real pain when they face it.”

And now when people are already experiencing lockdown, Devi asserts, they must have at least realised it: “How does it feel living under restrictions”.

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Mrinal Pathak

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