Hello, my name is Sanju. I live in Kashmir, Srinagar. I am an artisan, trader, and entrepreneur. I lived a fairly comfortable life before 2019, also travelled extensively over India, held exhibitions and expos. My life changed drastically after the abrogation of Article 370 and 35A. I not only suffered the trauma of 2 lockdowns, but also all tourism stopped making it impossible to live a normal life, eat healthily, or sleep in peace. All promises made by the Central Government proved to be a pipe dream.
The Center announced on the Floor of the House in Parliament that revoking 370 and 35a would bring peace, development, jobs and prosperity. On the contrary, we are in a worse situation than ever before. While the world laments over their colossal economic losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Jammu and Kashmir unlike elsewhere in the universe suffered 2 lockdowns utterly tearing down our economy.
The Center promised us vikas when our special status was removed, but vikas is far from us and every promise seems bakwas.
In a nutshell, let me share our difficulties, in speaking for lakhs of other Kashmiris like me:
Joblessness: While the Center promised jobs for all, the truth is lakhs of people have lost their jobs due to the lockdowns and unpredictability of situations. Thousands of daily-wagers, casual labourers, teachers, social workers, scheme workers and others have been denied wages for months together.
With Kashmir being labelled as a disputed zone, tourism is in ruins and artisans, traders, hoteliers and others have lost everything, and are barely scraping along to survive, manage fuel, food, medicines, rent, electricity bills, and the bare essentials of life
Stress Levels: The police have arrested hundreds of youths without warrants under the UAPA and PSA. Hundreds detained are not yet released. The uncertainly of life glares on our faces, and many of us welcome death, we are so tired of this rat race to even try to survive.
The government promised safety, but now we feel so unsafe because people can just be picked up without any reason. What is going to happen to them? There is no voice to speak for them.
Heart Attacks: Over this last year, there is a sudden escalation of heart attacks from the younger population of Jammu and Kashmir, alarming everyone. It is rare to see such young people dying of cardiac arrest, but we believe the lifestyle of not being able to exercise due to the lockdowns, stress, and depression has been the cause of sudden deaths in the young.
Suicide and Depression Cases: Suicide cases are rising among the young and the cases are increasing. Psychiatrists report that girls as young as 12 and 13 are getting psychiatric help because they are depressed. Kashmir, under siege, and for a season cut out from phone, lockdown, seeing financial and emotional crises is facing a tragic mental health crisis. A feeling of hopelessness engulfed us those times and many of us wanted to end our lives.
Rapes: Kashmir always had a safe, homely, friendly atmosphere and everyone around was like family. Girls could walk around freely, but now they don’t feel safe anymore. There have been even cases of rape, increasing violence against women. Girls are harassed, teased and even recorded as they walk on the road. No one can speak about it because all are living in fear of what may happen.
Theft Rising: After the revoking of article 370 and 35A, with joblessness, ruined businesses and no income, people are desperate. Some have resorted to crime and theft.
While the Center promised us jobs and better opportunities, our lives and dreams are blown up in smoke. In hopelessness, some people resort to crazy things such as theft, robbery and crime.
Education Breakdown: Due to the long lockdown, children have suffered. Educational institutions are deserted. Long breaks due to strikes and curfews have affected the lives of students. Children are losing the motivation to study. They have witnessed violence, seen death, arrests, and all this has affected their ability to study or taken them away from school. Due to financial difficulties, students are unable to invest in advanced learning opportunities.
Instability and Corruption: Losing the freedom of speech and expression, lacking basic civil rights, political instability brings on a corrupt climate because nothing is stable, certain or secure. Society is fragmented because we don’t have a strong networking system inside to ensure everyone is safe and empowered. The powerful are taking advantage of the weaker and draining out the little they have.
Poor Food Quality: Our economic depletion has led us to eat poor quality rationed food, and cannot afford nutritious food. Our bodies are weakened with poor quality food. In our harsh winters, everyone needs nutritious food many have fallen severely ill due to this.
Electricity and Roads: Our conditions are still deplorable. Our roads are rough, potholed and we still suffer a terrible electricity crisis with power cuts tormenting us, particularly as the freezing 2020 winter was setting it and nothing yet has been done about it. Promises made and broken breaks trust forever.
Drug Addictions: Drug addiction is a threat to the future of Kashmir. Due to prolonged conflict, unrest, unpredictability, living in an atmosphere of fear, worry, crashed economy, the youth are getting into drugs. Brown sugar, cannabis and directly injecting heroin into the blood through needles are getting common. Thousands of Kashmiri youth are in the claws of drug addiction. There is a registered 945 per cent rise in patients since 2016-17. Most of them are between ages 10 and 30 and around 80-90 per cent of them are heroin addicts. Our dreams are gone up in smoke, we cry as our hopes burn down to ashes, and aspirations buried in the dust. We are still waiting for a beam of light to pierce this darkness and give us back our lives, our dreams, our democratic freedom and our dignity.