April 29, 2021 10:30 pm

A People-Centric Response

We need to involve youth, mohalla heads and most importantly religious preachers in the fight against the virulent second Covid wave

A runaway surge in coronavirus cases threatens to plunge Jammu and Kashmir into the same chaos as is unfolding in Delhi and the other parts of the country. At over 3000 cases a day, we have more than half the number of Pakistan, a country with 21 times more population. This is a troubling state of affairs. There has been a 700 percent rise in the cases in the last four weeks. And any further spike can overrun the health facilities. This calls for a pro-active government effort to reign in the contagion which currently is not the case.

The administration, on the contrary, is blamed for aiding the all-encompassing second wave in its bid to project normalcy in the Valley following the withdrawal of J&K autonomy on August 5, 2019. The administration is blamed for encouraging thousands of tourists and the locals to visit Srinagar’s famous tulip garden and also organizing cultural festivals, music concerts, fashion shows, tourism promotion activities, all part of a coordinated effort to show things are hunky-dory. This at a time when the second wave was fast spreading through some other parts of the country from where tourists were coming.

As is apparent now, this normalcy flaunting by the administration in the middle of a pandemic is now taking a toll on the health of the people. We have already passed the peak of last year, twice over. The tally is set to jump further, health experts warn.

On April 18, in a belated yet cosmetic effort to address the new surge, the administration imposed night curfew. But the problem with this measure is that the conflict-ridden region has no night life for the past three decades. Markets close at 8 pm and the streets become deserted. The administration has since also imposed weekend curfew and extended school closures. And now the Srinagar administration has announced an 84 hour lockdown in the city after the district recorded higher cases in a single day than all of Jammu division. This should hopefully slow down the daily infections. But considering the new wave has been spawned by a ‘double mutant’ strain, the staggered restrictions on the movement may not make much of a conspicuous difference. After the economic devastation wrought by an extended Covid related lockdown last year preceded by a seven month security lockdown following the August 5 step, it has become exceedingly difficult for the administration to take a recourse to the move.

This calls for the administration to think innovatively. We need a dual strategy comprising a strict enforcement of Covid-19 protocol in the public sphere and the involvement of the ordinary people. Let each individual be a foot soldier in the fight against the pandemic. It is only when there is sufficient awareness and understanding of the challenge facing us at the level of an individual, can we really hope to turn the corner. We are a region with a thin population, so it shouldn’t be difficult to rope in the cooperation of the people in what is turning out to be an existential battle of another kind. Already, people in Kashmir have been largely under a siege for the last two years. This has battered the economy leaving thousands unemployed. So, the government can’t and shouldn’t go back to curbing the public movement as an easy recourse to tide over the ongoing crisis.

Resorting to more longer term lockdowns will be suicidal. It will be tantamount to further pauperizing the people. More so, when there’s now a big question mark over the beneficial outcome of such a draconian measure. Also, with all the community transmission having long set in, the contagion has long outgrown the utility of a lockdown to address it.

So what should the administration be doing instead? Many things other than enforcing the lockdown. For one, there’s an urgent need to enforce the safety precautions in order to contain the pandemic. And to start with, there has to be an aggressive campaign to enforce the use of masks. More alarmingly, the masks are conspicuously absent from the faces of a significant number of the people walking on the streets or those of the passengers using public transport. And none of these violators is taken to task.

This is strange. This government is ready to lock everything down at the drop of a hat, but it shirks from implementing the law when it comes to forcing people to observe Covid precautions.

The government needs to urgently work on two fronts: one, run an earnest awareness campaign alerting people to the deadliness of coronavirus and the urgency of observing safety precautions. Second, take strict action against the people who go out without masks or participate in large gatherings. These are the only pragmatic and hopefully helpful tools to tackle the contagion. That too, with least possibility of damage to the economy.

We also need to involve the community in the effort, including youth, mohalla heads and most importantly religious preachers who will be tasked to exhort people to observe safety guidelines in their respective areas. This should have been done much earlier.

In Kashmir over the last year, the administration has so obsessively regulated and dictated the public lives of people, that the latter have almost forgotten to mind them on their own. This is starkly reflected in the way the fight against Coronavirus has been carried out. Over the past twelve months, the administration has taken to controlling the situation in a way that is no different from the security management of the situation arising out of the repeal of Article 370: This has denied people a sense of agency to act in their own interest. This should force the government to introspect. It is not when it takes each and every decision on behalf of the people and inflicts sweeping lockdowns but when it makes them a stakeholder in these decisions.


Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer

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Riyaz Wani

Riyaz Wani is the Political Editor at Kashmir Observer

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