As Modi government covered up the failure of the abrogation of article 370 and article 35A and a year of complete lockdown in Jammu and Kashmir with Bhoomi Poojan in Ayodhya, it is Indians must reflect on what did we gain from putting the entire population of a state in lockdown depriving them of not just basic necessities but their rights and dignity.
Several reports have focussed on human rights violations, arbitrary arrests and detentions, and the media blockade over the last year. This is something that we Indians do not think of because for many, Human rights are an alien concept..unless well it comes to them!
Since the COVID19 pandemic broke out, and most parts of the country were under complete lockdown, many commented- Now do you know what Kashmir is going through! Well, No sir, this is not all!
For many Indians, lockdown meant the idea of not being able to leave their home, hoard food supplies, and night curfews. But many people forget there are things that are taken for granted in cities including electricity, mobile phones, and the internet! Being inside a house one can watch TV, movies, watch Netflix, talk to your family and work from home! However, Kashmiris could do none of these things..because there was no internet for the most part of the year and when it was restored it was 2G internet. Can you remember what was 2G like because we cannot!
Internet shutdown meant literally meant a complete halt on the activities of life especially in the times of Corona outbreak which caused immense restrictions on movement. Despite multiple petitions both in the High Court and Supreme Court, internet blockade was not lifted. It was only by March 4 that all the websites were granted access on 2G internet. Even on May 11th, the Supreme Court rejected a plea for the restoration of 4G internet services although agreeing in principle that the governmental actions were against previously laid down principles.
One cannot resist but blame the Apex Court among all other institutions for abdicating its responsibilities to ensure that the rights of the people are not violated. India´s internet shutdown in Kashmir is the longest ever in a democracy. Yes, India gained a record of putting 7 million people to return to a pre-Internet era.
Education during the one year of Lockdown and in COVID times
The regional administration shut down all educational institutions in the region on August 4, 2019, in the run-up to India’s decision to overrule whatever limited autonomy was left in Kashmir. As of today, students in Kashmir have faced a paralysis in their education for almost a year, and the regional administration has said in a recent order that schools will remain shut until at least August 31.
The massive military and communication blockade was accompanied by lockdown restrictions which meant that educational institutions remained shut until February 24, when classes resumed briefly, before being thrust into another lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Even when the government opened up the schools, parents were terrified to send their children to school due to the constant arrests and communication blockade. Meanwhile, exams continued to take place, with students being asked to fill the exam material at home. The years of the trauma by living in a conflict zone is now coupled with a lack of any educational environment which according to child psychology experts, has caused a huge spike in mental health issues amongst children.
Now, the move towards online education is especially harmful to Kashmiri students. The complete internet lockdown in the region was later changed to allow only 2G connectivity. Teachers and students at both the school and university level report the difficulties of uploading and accessing classes and other material online. In June, students from the Central University of Kashmir protested outside their campus, demanding mass promotions, taking into account their lack of access to classes and additionally, the distress faced by them in this educational year.
The lockdown that started on the night of 4th august 2019 heavily impacted health services. People with life-threatening illnesses/accidents could not access hospitals due to curfews, travel restrictions, army blockades, with no telephone, or mobile connectivity whatsoever.
The lack of 3G/4G internet connectivity also impacted the quality of healthcare in the region during the pandemic. Healthcare professionals are not able to access current information, public health guidelines, the latest research on the coronavirus, as well as accurate updates on transmission in the region. Further, telemedicine and online consultations are made impossible, limiting patient care in the already understaffed and weak healthcare system in the region. This internet lockdown by India goes directly against statements by international free speech experts who have highlighted that restricting access to the internet is indefensible during a health crisis when access to information is crucial.
Even before the pandemic hit, healthcare was severely affected by the lockdown in Kashmir. Lack of internet connectivity meant that almost 1.4 million people who were eligible for the Ayushman Bharat National Health Insurance, a government-funded insurance plan for the poor and vulnerable were not able to access it as it operates completely through e-cards. Due to the curfews and blockade of transport and communication, many patients who required urgent and regular treatments were not able to reach the hospitals on time, many patients who did not live in areas with access to specialists were not able to contact hospitals from other areas, and media reports also suggested huge shortages of life-saving medicines. However, doctors who raised concerns regarding these issues, such as Dr. Omar Salim Akhtar, were arrested soon after giving media statements. In fact, the Directorate of Health Services in Kashmir issued a circular on April 1, threatening government servants with “strict action” if they made any attempt to publicly criticize the State’s response to the pandemic. Many doctors, such as Dr. Syed Maqbool, alleged police harassment and abuse, leading to the Doctors Association of Kashmir calling for a protest in May. Doctors have reported the overall underprepared nature of the healthcare system in Kashmir due to understaffing, with Kashmir having the lowest doctor to patient ratio compared to all regions of India, as well as massive shortages of protective equipment, medicine, testing kits, and so on.
J&K was one of the better performing states of India before August 2019 both economically and in terms of Human Development Indices (HDIs). However, since August 2019, the state has suffered immensely on economic terms noted the Jammu & Kashmir: The Impact of Lockdowns on Human Rights report.
According to the report, the Kashmir region alone has suffered losses worth Rs 40,000 Crore over the past 11 months (As estimated by Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry) and similar figures had not yet been arrived at for the Jammu region. Almost all livelihoods have been devastated as the region faced several issues during the year including Post-abrogation lockdowns which was followed by restriction of the internet to 2G speeds in J&K. It also suffered from Covid-19 lockdown and opening up of J&K economy to companies from other parts of the country between August 2019 and July 2020. Even the unemployment rates have reached its pinnacle at almost 18%, which is almost twice the national average.
The new domicile rules issued has furthered the chances of unemployment for the people from the region. Under the new rules, only people who have lived in the state for over 15 years or have studied for at least 7 years would be considered domicile. Earlier, the permanent residents of the state were considered as a domicile.
Is this the kind of Kashmir that Indians wanted? Is the Hindu collective thirst quenched now with the destruction of Kashmir? Will the building of Ram Temple in Ayodhya and caging a whole state for more than a year get rid of pertinent Indian problems of poverty, unemployment, and overall governmental apathy?