Article 370: notes from a Kashmir under two-day curfew
Lack of healthcare access and memories of August 2019 are creating fear and anxiety amidst curfew in Kashmir
SRINAGAR, 4 August: Once again, Kashmiris heard the announcement — “Apkey ilakay mai curfew nafiz kiya gaya hai, meharbani kar ke apney gharu mai hi rahay (Curfew has been imposed in your locality, please stay at home)". It took 27-year-old Harris Ahmad back one year.
Without delay, Ahmad called his girlfriend, fearing the administration might block calling services and low-speed internet as well. For this has become the norm in a region where protests against government decisions have been common.
On the evening of 3 August, the administration imposed strict curfew ahead of the 5 August anniversary of the revocation, effectively, of Article 370 and Article 35A of the Constitution. The streets are deserted; barbed wires have been laid across many alleys of downtown Srinagar to restrict civilian movement. Security personnel are ubiquitous, stopping anyone without a card to prove they have a medical emergency.
“My wife is pregnant and I am supposed to get her tested before the delivery. How will I reach the hospital?" asks 30-year-old Feroz Rather, who comes from the outskirts of Srinagar and has to travel around 15km to reach the nearest covid-19 clinic in Soura, which was a hub of protests in August last year.
“This (curfew) is very common in Kashmir, says Rather, who maintains he will carry his wife to the hospital on foot if he does not find a vehicle. “I have to get her tested today itself."
At the time of publishing, there were no orders for any low-speed internet ban in the valley, but Kashmiris are apprehensive. “They (the administration) fear our protests on social media too," says a local teenager.
The first anniversary of the revocation, effectively, of Article 370 and Article 35A is to be marked tomorrow as a “black day". Over the last few days, Kashmiris have been taking to social media, with #5AugustBlackDay, #Article370 and #KashmirSeigeDay trending on Twitter. Some have changed their profile photographs to red blanks, others are sharing images taken last year by local photojournalists.
On 31 July, the administration had already ordered a lockdown till 8 August as the number of covid-19 rose; Kashmir has seen more than 22,000 cases and 407 deaths. The curfew, however, has led to even greater worry. “If they (the Union government) are planning to do something like they did the previous year, they must kill us before that. If not them, this virus will," says a 60-year-old resident of Srinagar, standing at the gate of his home and chatting with his neighbour about Article 370.
Last year, on the night of 4 August, the administration snapped all communication and imposed a strict lockdown, leaving Kashmiris cut off from the rest of the world. In October, post-paid cellular services were resumed; low-speed internet was allowed from January.
Low speeds have hit the work of students, paramedics and online ventures. Losses to Kashmir’s economy over the past year are estimated at ₹40,000 crore by the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Now, Ahmad's girlfriend fears her brother, a vocal and frequent protester, may be arrested again. “My brother was behind bars for more than two months last year after police came to know about his throwing of stones," she says, keen to remain anonymous. After the announcement on Article 370 last year, thousands of people were detained. Many have been released since but some, like former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, continue to remain in detention.
Meanwhile, Ahmad and his girlfriend are ready with ways to circumvent any situation that may stop them from talking or meeting.
Bhat Burhan is an independent multimedia journalist based in Srinagar.
FIRST PUBLISHED04.08.2020 | 04:56 PM IST