Is Pandemic Changing Perceptions About Political Lockdown in Kashmir?

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As the entire world is going through one of the biggest humanitarian crises today, some regions like Jammu and Kashmir continue to face their inherent crisis along with the health crisis. But as the latest lockdown has come home as a stark reminder, many Indians in lockdown have started talking about their ‘change in heart’.  

Mrinal Pathak

SUDDEN snapping of mobile internet and cellular calling in Kashmir lately made Rahul Sharma, a 26-year-old NIIT graduate from New Delhi, to break ice on Kashmir.

He talked about his ‘caged’ Kashmiri friends, the repeated casualty of internet, curbs on public movement, weary students wondering about their online classes and careers, and the constant hostage sense unleashed in the valley, with his family, like never before.

Before pandemic lockdown, Sharma would support the political lockdowns in Kashmir for “national interest”. But after living as a captive in his own home for nearly two months now, he started “feeling” for the lockdown-plagued populace of the valley.

“I would support lockdown in Kashmir as long as I was living as a freeman,” Sharma said, matter-of-factly. “But once I suffered the fate of common Kashmiris, I had a change of heart. I believe the proof of the pudding is in the eating.”

Amid pandemic, the current political lockdown enforced after the passage of the most wanted insurgent of Kashmir recently has come as a plagued reminder of the state of affairs in the valley.

“At a time when all of us are sailing in the same boat,” Sharma continued, “there should a collective resolve to improve things in the valley. Let’s not support these repeated restrictions in the name of security there anymore.”

Even as some lockdown-hostage Indians are showing a ‘change of heart’, the rightwing TV news and social media-driven campaign continue to dominate the discourse with its ‘vocal narrative’.

But away from virtual “eco-chambers” and “kangaroo courts”, as many people dismiss them, the real life change is slowly taking place.

“While most of us are new to these curbs,” said Dr. Ramesh Gupta, a Haryana-based political science professor, “I’m amazed how Kashmiris are braving the continuous state of lockdown from last August. While we all should learn from their resolve, we must also raise our voices for a meaningful change in their lives.”

Many of these fresh voices are asserting their tacit support at a time when the problems due to the earlier restrictions in Kashmir got compounded after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi imposed the nationwide lockdown to limit the spread of the deadly virus.

Some of these issues are now striking a perceptive change in locked down Indians.

Internet Woes

“It’s unthinkable for me to live without internet for even an hour,” said Meenakshi Joshi, a college student from Utter Pradesh. “How Kashmiris are living without it makes my head spin. I believe we, Indians, need to raise our voice against such injustices.”

After restoring 2G internet earlier this year, the authorities once again snapped it recently. While the broadband services have been resumed, the high-speed or 4G internet remains suspended since August 5, 2019, when New Delhi rendered J&K’s special status null and void.

Despite the fact that majority of employees are working from home currently, J&K government on April 28, 2020 extended the ban on 4G internet till May 11, 2020.

“The most essential element required to enable people to work from home is the high speed of the internet,” Joshi, the college-goer, continued. “People belonging to the working class in J&K are finding it difficult to keep up with their respective works at the punishing speed of 2G. This has to change.”

After the Indian apex court recently reserved its judgement on the fate of 4G internet in J&K, students grappling with the slow-internet connection had to eschew their expectations once again.

Earlier this year, the educational institutions in J&K had opened after almost eight months, but the pandemic once again forced the administration to shut them till the further orders.

“Fact is, students from J&K studying in different parts of India are facing tremendous difficulty while attending the online classes due to the slow speed of the internet,” said Gautam Puri, a Delhi-based IT consultant. “How these students are surviving without high-speed internet since August 05, 2019 makes me wonder.”

Restriction on Movement

The current lockdown has forced a section of society to reshape their opinion on the earlier curfews imposed in the valley.

Those who defended the stringent curfews imposed in the valley are now empathising with the Kashmiris who are put under lockdown for long.

“To some extent, coronavirus has made an impossible-looking thing possible,” Puri, the consultant, said. “Now many Indians from different parts of the country are trying to understand the pain and agony of Kashmiris.”

Among them are young Indians, desperately waiting for this lockdown to end to live an ordinary life.

Occasions and Ceremonies

The pandemic lockdown has forced many Indians to cancel their events, weddings and leisurely occasions.

Every cancelled wedding is now giving rise to a ‘softer narrative’ on all the weddings cancelled in Kashmir in the last nine months.

“While we were worrying about the cancellation of our brother’s wedding, I was reminded of a photo of a Kashmiri groom leaving for his bride’s home with two people amid lockdown last year in the valley,” said Tania Mehta, a Delhi-based research scholar.

“We know how big and important weddings are for Kashmiris. Now when the lockdown has redefined our own merrymaking occasions, you can’t help thinking about those caught in the perennial curbs.”

One only feels the agony of others when they feel that sorrow, Mehta continued. “Just like the beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder, the sympathy lies in the heart of a person facing tough times.”

Children Are Worst Affected

While the children in rest of India are getting desperate to roam in the community parks, their parents are now driving their thoughts for the kids of Kashmir who have not been able to play under the sun for almost a year.

“The joys and giggles of little children took a major hit due to the current pandemic,” said Sandeep Singh, a trader and a father of four kids. “Many reports have suggested that the mental state of children may get destabilised if they are not allowed to go outside and play. The innocence of our own kids has forced some of us to think of the innocence of Kashmiri kids.”

Humanity Survives

Even after facing so many hardships, many Indians believe, Kashmiris have not left their humanity behind.

“Humanity has not vanished from the hearts of Kashmiris, even after treated very harshly by the state,” Singh said. “It has given birth to the already lost soft corner for them in the hearts of many Indians.”

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Mrinal Pathak

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