‘Weary, Worried, Wondering’—Kashmiri Students in Lockdown

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Photo: Abid Bhat/KO

With yet another 4G deadline, Kashmiri students supposed to study online find themselves grappling with weary indoors, where some of them are now drawing parallels with a ‘dystopian world’.

Hirra Sultan

Ever since she became a pandemic prisoner in her home, Mehnaz Shafi, 18, has been equating her life with a protracted plague threatening her normal upbringing and student life.

“The lockdown is another reminder of our cursed lives,” Mehnaz laments, “as it [closure] is what has always happened to our studies.”

Even though, she says, the year 2020 started with some internet promise and ‘normalcy’, it looks miserable now, as Kashmir, like rest of the world, is under the contagion curbs.

“This is not the first time,” she continues. “At least there’s a disease out there this time, and not someone’s blood.”

Campus Cravings

Mehvish Akhtar, 20, was supposed to join college this year, which amid pandemic, looks difficult now.

The wannabe architect says she has already lost precious time facing the situational torment in Kashmir, which last summer, was stripped of its special status.

“After last August, schools had reopened this early spring to everyone’s joy in Kashmir,” Mehvish says. “But now, they [campuses] are once again under a lock and key. It’s crazy to make peace with such a stressful situation, every now and then!”

Future Tense

“What would become of us in the face of these repeated campuses closures?” wonders Haziq Ali, a class 10 student from Srinagar.

“How long are we going to suffer silently under the tormenting situation? I cannot even sleep at nights any longer.”

For weary indoors amid pandemic lockdown, the online tutorial is a global solution.

But as the union territory government seems in mood to restore 4G internet, despite the pleas from civil society members and veteran unionist like Dr. Farooq Abdullah, Kashmiri students are only becoming anxious for their careers.

Photo: Abid Bhat/KO

“They tell us to compete with students from all over India and yet do not give us the same facilities,” Shoaib Bhat, a Sopore-based student preparing for IIT-JEE, says. “Which other city has been under a curfew for this long?”

Kashmiri students, Shoaib says, don’t have sufficient internet speed to even download a PDF file.

“How are we supposed to stand up against someone who has had a whole year of classes and all other facilities?”

Out of Valley Trials

As part of ‘normalcy’ routine, many Kashmiri families would send their wards outside the valley to study in different Indian educational institutions. But many Kashmiri students in the face of hate campaign and assaults, especially after 2019 Pulwama attack, have grown apprehensive for their safety and security.

Even though thousands of Kashmiris study and work in mainland India, more now prefer overseas.

“Being a Kashmiri doesn’t feel like old times outside the valley now,” Arsalan Mir, a college-goer, says. “It feels as if you’ve become some symbol of suspicion now.”

Worried and Wondering

But as there’s no place to go right now, many of these students—who otherwise would cool their heels in outside campuses—are conveying a hard time back home.

“Be it 2016 or 2019, I was always away, watching home from distance,” says Sibtain Shah, a college student in Delhi.

“But now, as the world has become Kashmir, with police guarding every entry and exit, it feels as if chickens have come home to roost. But for us, it’s worrying time. As we grow weary indoors, we keep wondering about our dystopian world.”

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