2021 Kashmir in Rewind: Politics, Economy, Health and Gender

ECONOMY in rewind

Ejaz Ayoub

Economic Analyst, BFSI Industry expert and Researcher

J&K's economy in 2021 refused to show any healthy signs of recovery. Instead, the year witnessed a series of business-sentiment destroying events in the form of pandemic related lockdowns, frequent encounters, civilian killings, migrant labour exodus, global recession, and unpopular Govt. policies. The high frequency consumer indicators like inflation, unemployment, credit offtake and consumer demand painted a very grim picture of the region's economy.

The primary sector, which is largely dependent on income from apples, walnuts and saffron, witnessed around 30-50% annual price corrections, resulting in shrinking of the agrarian income by a substantial margin. Trade, hotels & restaurants, and transport which absorbs around one third of the region’s workforce underwent a deep contraction in wake of frequent lockdowns and consumer demand slump. These sectors are still way below pre-August 2019 levels. The exodus of migrant workers in the second half of the year, although temporarily, did create a labour force shortage in the secondary sector (construction and manufacturing) which supports over a quarter of UT’s GSDP. Global slowdown continued to create severe stress in the region’s foreign remittances (from people working outside the country) and the export income. Pertinently, over 3 lakh artisans are directly linked to the incomes from the export sector.

Extreme and consistent inflationary pressures and very high unemployment continued to kill consumer demand, catalyse poverty, and harm the socio-economy of the region. In response, the Govt’s policy has been primarily focussed on security and narrative management. Despite repeated SOS calls from various trade and industry bodies, the Govt. has preferred to look the other way and let the grim economic situation self-correct by some divine intervention.


POLITICS  in rewind

Riyaz Wani

Political Editor, Kashmir Observer

Nothing changes in Kashmir

2021 has ended on a peaceful note, more or less like 2020 had. That is if can the call the deafening silence prevailing in Kashmir as peace. Both years followed a more or less similar trajectory, starting with dire predictions of public unrest  but concluding normally. An undercurrent of unease, or a public perception of it, continued to linger. But as for the militancy, there was no change, despite the killings of around 400 militants in the last two years. The number of active militants in Kashmir hovers close to 200, the same it has been over the last six years.

The two successive years of social peace have hardly reduced the uncertainty of the situation in the new year. The predictions for 2022 can hardly be any different. Once again we stare at a year that holds the prospect of a potential turmoil. It seems unnatural not to expect it, even while the two years of so-called normalcy should have brought us around this expectation.

This brings up the question as to what is it about Kashmir that makes it compulsively abnormal, uncertain and unpredictable at the best of times. Or what is it that keeps the state precariously teetering on the edge? The answer to this is that the underpinnings of the political situation remain unchanged while narratives are tweaked here and there, sometimes invented and enforced.

This doesn't mean Kashmir hasn't changed. It has and very profoundly so after the August 2019 revocation of Article 370. The fallout of the far-reaching constitutional makeover of J&K is still playing itself out. It is difficult to see where it will end.


COVID-19 AND HEALTH in rewind

Dr Parvaiz Koul

Director SKIMS

 It was a year of highs and lows. Highs in the sense that we had the roll out of the vaccine. We had a credible health care team who actually went out and vaccinated people, claiming to have achieved the feat of giving the first dose to 100 % of high risk groups and subsequently giving the 2nd dose to more than 70% of the population. This is a clear high in our performance against Covid.

However, there were lows as well, considering that we had a severe wave of delta variant during the initial part of the year. We faced a lot of hospitalizations and a lot of deaths happened across the country, and J&K was not spared either. Then there was a lull, one which continues till now, with the imminent fear of a new variant, i.e. omicron. My hope is that it doesn’t turn out the same way as it is for countries like the USA and UK. The US has seen a record number of cases nearing 5oo thousands per day- which is unimaginable in India. If we have that kind of numbers, it will be ten times more than that, and that we cannot afford. Even if there is a small percentage of the cases that require hospitalization, they will overwhelm the hospitals, even with a lesser number of deaths. They will not only drain the already drained out resources but also put pressure on non-covid diseases which will get side lined and caught in the back burner.

So, that is how 2021 panned out for us.

If we look ahead, it is a very scary scenario in the west right now. In India as well, in some parts, omicron is raising its head menacingly. However, I hope it doesn’t come to us in the same way. The silver lining is that a good number of our regular population seems to be immunized. They seem to have received a ‘passive vaccination’ because there is a high percentage of sero positivity even in children, who did not receive vaccination and were largely asymptomatic. So, this is a silver lining and this might hopefully help us in obviating getting mauled by omicron.


MENTAL HEALTH in rewind

Dr Arshid Hussain

Prominent Psychiatrist

2021 saw Mental Health mainstreaming like never before, world over call for action for better mental health grew shriller and louder with every passing day.  Covid Pandemic stretched  the mental health needs of the whole population and vulnerable people succumbed. While mental Health needs kept on increasing, governments and organisations tried to make mental health more available, accessible and acceptable to people. How far they will succeed will depend on their long term commitment to make mental health for all a reality.

Kashmir has been traditionally a low drug addiction zone only instances of substance use have been socially approved charas takia (cannabis pubs) usually visited by people with comorbid serious mental health illnesses like schizophrenia and BPAD and licenced use of opioids by some people for severe pain and other illnesses. In 1980s, when whole of the subcontinent was in opioid boom and Kashmir was in transit for most of the opium coming from Afghanistan, drug addiction never became a public health issue .During that decade, our hospital saw around 1000 patients in 10 yrs; 90 percent of them cannabis, 10 patients of opioid use.

In the last 1 year, the institute saw more than 4000 patients with substance use disorders with opioids as the commonest substance of dependence. In this context, Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences-Kashmir, at the behest of the Government of Jammu and Kashmir  (J&K) framed the first-ever Drug De-addiction policy which is based on the core principles of Prevention, Integration and Community participation to combat the epidemic of substance use in a low-economy conflict zone. In this policy, Demand reduction is the soul of the policy instead of harm reduction. The policy promotes the “Integrated Model” of de-addiction centres which encourages centres to be integrated with the main hospitals and utilises families in providing care. In addition, this concept ensures quick and efficient management of drug related emergencies as well as treatment of comorbid medical conditions, hence treating the patients in a holistic manner  rather than in parts.

We are hopeful as we have set up 13 Addiction Treatment Facilities in UT of J&K, all of them in various district hospitals. There is also work going on with Directorate of Education and Social Welfare to spread awareness and help in primordial prevention of Drug abuse.


GENDER  in rewind

Tooba Towfiq

Opinion Editor, Kashmir Observer

Women in Kashmir have been at a curious intersection of different identities and issues. Living in a conflict zone is inadvertently one factor that dictates many experiences of women here. This year, like many decades of decay, saw instances of mourning and vulnerability — with women situated in the midst of the spectacle of violence. This has forever delayed the possibility of having a fair access to basic rights that women in other parts of the world enjoy easily. The government’s ironfisted attitude towards criticism has silenced many young voices especially those of opinionated women.

At the level of other data points, Kashmir saw some concerning trends especially in the context of reproductive health. Fertility rates have been declining and there are alarming reports about some of the reproductive decisions that women here are having to take. J&K ranks second in C-section surgeries in India. In Jammu and Kashmir (82.1%) women undergo C-section with private hospitals hosting most of these. This irony of access and ignorance at private hospitals needs to be evaluated and addressed immediately. Women deserve to be guided towards better reproductive decisions in order for them to have a healthy and productive life.

The covid-19 pandemic has also strained the domestic roles of women like never before. Women, especially those married, have had their personal space curtailed due to them having to stay at home and ace domestic as well as professional roles.

However, with timeless grit, in 2021 we saw Kashmiri women braving through the crisis that the year threw at them. The year saw women being vintage resilient. Survival under extraordinary circumstances such as ours is in itself a huge feat. However, women here kept making power moves at home, in education, business and every role possible. 2022 may not be the year where the world pays attention to women in Kashmir but it will be yet another year when Kashmiri women will take care of themselves and rise to every occasion as an epitome of power. Here’s to us!

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