I share the voice of one Kashmiri, namely Sanju who echoes other Kashmiri voices. They are hurt, wounded, feel betrayed, and neglected. Article 21 is the most sacred building of our personal liberty and I urge the Bharatiya Janata Party Government to diligently establish and build the economy and liberty of Kashmiris so they can live to grow in prosperity and breathe the air of a healthy democracy.
It was just two minutes to midnight in October as I sat musing in the dark night, riddled with anxiety wondering how we would tide over the harsh chilled winter just around the corner. I live in Kashmir, Srinagar, the capital where the winter would be savagely cold, and other parts of Kashmir would be freezing in the sub zeros. We needed extra fuel, electricity, and a lot of money in these ruthless winters. This was a Herculean task for me because the lockdowns brought me to bankruptcy, which in turn affected the close nexus of families that depend on me for employment. I felt incapacitated as I could hardly do anything when we were all suffering in the same boat during this financial degeneration.
Trade and tourism are the most heavily hit during the double lockdown unlike anywhere else in the world. First, with the abrogation of Article 370 on August 5, 2019, encasing us within our houses and overnight, we became prisoners in our own homeland. We lost everything. First, we lost our dignity, money, our businesses, our freedom, the freedom of the press nabbed in the ashes of silence, and we faced many other inconveniences. I would say no one in the world could understand this kind of pain unless you go through it. Before the removal of Article 370, tourism, trade, and entertainment were flourishing at their peaks. After the abrogation of Article 370, the economy and structures crashed and the spirit of Kashmir ebbed with depression. Children stopped playing; laughter toned down, mental health, high-stress levels, anxiety, depression, heart attack cases rising, and students could not study online with the Internet closedown.
With the loss of our Internet, our businesses pummeled to a pulp. Jammu and Kashmir lost nearly Rs 40,000 crore in the lockdown since the abrogation of Article 370 reported in the latest report titled Jammu and Kashmir: The Impact of Lockdowns on Human Rights compiled by civil rights group The Forum of Human Rights in Jammu and Kashmir. In the March budget, the Government did not attempt to compensate for these losses. The KCCI president Sheikh Ashiq Hussain said, “A single day’s shutdown in Kashmir results in a loss of Rs 125 crore. Every kind of business was hit badly in Kashmir since August 5th and yet no one is taking responsibility for it.”
For the first time in the past 70 years, rural Kashmir is facing a great economic meltdown. The apple industry in Kashmir, worth INR 80 billion, which contributes eight percent of J&K’s GDP, has been crushed. The fruit industry, tourism, and textiles, handicrafts suffered the most, which subscribes to Kashmir’s high 8% GDP. During the first 100-day lockdown, healthcare suffered, with no access to hospitals as communications snapped under Section 144, pharmaceutical shops closed, with medicines shortage for patients with serious sicknesses, patients could not communicate with their doctors on phone. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court ignored multiple habeas corpus writ petitions for bifurcation and detentions, and all communications from the outside world stopped. There were uncompensated losses to industry and business due to no sales with zero customers.
Due to the communications siege, lockdown, curfews, and militant threats, in the past five months alone, the economy of Kashmir lost INR 178.78 billion and lost more than 90,000 jobs in the departments of tourism, handicraft, and information technology.
We are heartbroken that innocent children and youth have senselessly lost lives, over 4000 people incarcerated, many without proper warrants, and others killed by crossfire. Depriving freedom of speech, Kashmiris cannot openly express themselves or they will be booked under UAPA (Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.
The first lockdown had already smothered Kashmir under its weight.
The second lockdown when COVID-19 stalked the world, started to drown the people in its treacherous waters.
Mulling over all these disturbing paraphernalia and events, finally, my dreaded winter arrived and this struck us harder than we expected with the bitterest winter in 30 years. Srinagar recorded glacial temperatures below -6°C between December 17th and December 20th. The other day, I went over to Dal Lake and was fascinated to see the Lake covered with sheets of white ice. It made me think how fragile our lives in Kashmir had become now; walking on thin ice that could crack any moment drawing us into its deep waters.
We could not afford the luxuries of our favorite delicacies or the much needed warm clothes in the arctic winter. Though I wore triple woolen clothing, and extra thick socks, I was still shivering, in the polar chill. I kept myself warm by sipping my salted Kashmiri pink tea, speculating over the grueling events that transpired over the last couple of years. My shop looked like a marooned island 95% of the time with no one around to buy my handicrafts, Kashmiri shawls, and other goods, and our tourism department now literally closed down. The snuffing out of trade and tourism is devastating during hard times as these are the least required.
The Government decided that there was an Amarnath threat, so they called in the Army and made us a further disputed territory. This murdered the soul of tourism, our houseboats are closed and the tourists have stopped coming. Previously, we had a flourishing tourist business just before the abrogation of Article 370. Right now, who will come to a disputed territory anyway? We are losing the employees who used to work with us. Their families were dependent on this and all of this has affected thousands of lives in the Valley.
Today I ask the Government
Where are the jobs?
Where is employment?
When are you going to fulfill our wishes?
When are you going to deliver your promises?
You seem interested to fill our graveyards
We are living on the brink of starvation
You are portraying a bad image of us to the entire world
You snatched our fundamental rights
You snatched our right and freedom of speech
Sometimes you took our blood.
Sometimes you crushed our economy and our resources
When will you think about the future of our youth?
A very disheartened, disappointed Kashmiri