Why Lockdown?

KO Photo: Abid Bhat

The alarmists including a group of doctors are creating more panic in Kashmir for reasons known to them alone and in turn further crushing the Valley's economy already shut for one year

Gowhar Geelani

LET us face two simple facts: One, the novel Coronavirus is an irrefutable reality. It is no conspiracy theory. It is a no brainer either that the threat posed by the tiny virus is real. Two, the parallels that are being drawn between Kashmir and Wuhan are erroneous, misleading and alarmist.

In Maharashtra alone, the number of positive Coronavirus cases is touching the 300,000-mark with nearly 11,000 deaths. In contrast, the number of those infected due to the virus in Jammu and Kashmir is under 11,000, of which over 6,000 individuals have already recovered. The recovery rate is fast. And it should have been packaged as a good piece of news to avoid psychological burden on the hearts and minds of the people. Thankfully, the death toll also is below 200. But the alarmists are creating more panic in Kashmir for reasons known to them alone.

The focus should have been on creating more awareness with regards to preventive measures like wearing masks, strictly following physical distancing norms, maintaining cough etiquette and washing hands regularly with soap or a hand sanitizer. In Kashmir, the virus is being treated as a law-and-order problem. All the blame is squarely put on the local population when the bank employees, doctors, members of the police department and paramilitary forces are infected in huge numbers.

Why was an order issued by the J&K administration to force all the government employees to report to their offices in full strength? Why is the focus not on the WFH (Work from Home) culture to avoid overcrowding at the offices? Why hasn’t the rotation roster policy been adopted? Why can’t only 25 per cent staff be present in all important offices and banks on a policy of rotation? How are the people responsible for the mess created by a ‘chosen’ few?

Why is it that the J&K administration on July 8 decided to throw open parks and gardens for the public and then in a volte face on July 12 issued another order to re-impose lockdown and severe restrictions in many “containment zones”? Had the tiny virus gone on vacation on July 8 and it resumed its duties on July 12? Why is critical thinking being criminalised in Kashmir?

In another bizarre move, the J&K administration issued yet another order to allow tourist activities in the region from July 14 besides giving a go-ahead to the holy Amarnath pilgrimage as a fortnightly affair while limiting the number to 500 pilgrims for a single day. The message telegraphed is that the virus somehow differentiates between the visiting tourists/ pilgrims and the native population. Does the virus become hyperactive when it comes to dealing with the local population and goes into hibernation mode with respect to the visitors and pilgrims? Why can’t these questions be asked? Has the critical thinking in Kashmir been quarantined or put in isolation? Or, may be, declared a “containment zone”?

What is also intriguing is that a few (not all) doctors refuse to apply their independent mind or critical thinking to question the weird orders. Instead, a few become mouthpieces of the administration. It is understood that  in government service they have certain limitations. But why lend support to stupidity? Silence is also an option.

If the virus or the spike in the COVID19 infection curve is the reason, it is absolutely fine and justified to place a blanket ban on all social, religious and political gatherings in J&K. Obviously, it is for the betterment of the region and its people. By avoiding crowded and packed places the community transmission of the deadly virus can be stopped. Many precious lives can be saved. There are no two opinions about it.

But how is it justified to allow a pilgrimage of one community and ban all sorts of gatherings of another community? How is it just to force the natives indoors while leaving the field open for visiting tourists and pilgrims?

It is precisely because of such inherent contradictions that many people in Kashmir become sceptical of the administration’s moves. That is why many conspiracy theories and speculations fly thick and fast in all directions. That is why many in Kashmir see political and other possible ulterior motives behind the weird orders issued in haste.

The influential trade body Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries (KCCI) has in its detailed preliminary report assessed the colossal losses to local economy and businesses in the Kashmir Valley since last August when the restive region lost its semi-autonomous status and statehood in a unilateral and undemocratic decision. Going by their report which estimated the loss of INR 18,000 Crore to Kashmir economy between August and November, the loss could have exceeded INR 55,000 crore by now.

Several business houses in Kashmir are on the verge of a collapse. Young entrepreneurs have lost their savings and investments. Since the 2008 summer uprising the Kashmir economy has been under tremendous stress. The shopkeepers, transporters, tourism players and those associated with hospitality and IT-sectors have been at the receiving end. Prolonged shutdowns, curfews, internet blockades in 2008-09-10-16-19-20 and disturbances caused due to the devastating floods of 2014 have not given a breathing space to the economy.

Kashmir’s traders, vendors, daily wagers, hoteliers, shikarawallahs, ponywallahs, houseboat owners, salespersons, transporters and others have suffered losses since August of last year. Most of them stand crushed because of the two lockdowns of different nature. The first one related to the August 5 decision and the second one due to the pandemic.

Most of those supportive of Lockdown 2.0 speak from the point of privilege. No matter what, the government employees will receive their monthly salaries. What about the fruit vendors, daily wagers, transporters, masons, carpenters, painters, salespersons, shopkeepers and others who have to go to work to put the food on the table? Should they be left to die of poverty before the coronavirus gets them?

In such a scenario the decision to reintroduce restrictions and re-impose lockdown is ludicrous.

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Gowhar Geelani

Gowhar Geelani is a journalist-author who served Deutsche Welle as editor. He is author of Kashmir: Rage and Reason

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