Team Of Five Women Activists Uncover Kashmir's Reality, Say Nothing Normal
A man from Srinagar went to the airport to receive his mother returning from Hajj. Failing to see her, he enquired, only to be told that she had died and been buried in Saudi Arabia, thousands of miles away from him and her home.
Another commoner, Ghulam Ahmed choked as he said, “How do I tell my loved ones that she (my mother) is no more? There is no way to.” What horrified him was how his sisters in Traal slept under the dark skies surrounded by guns, unaware that their mother had passed away. He buried her without her daughters, weeping at his helplessness.
“What would you do in Delhi if internet services were cut off for 5 minutes?”, Kashmiris are unanimously asking with their vision blurred with tears, but are receiving no answer AND only an empty look…
Five women – Annie Raja, Kawaljit Kaur, Pankhuri Zaheer from National Federation Indian Women, Poonam Kaushik from Pragatisheel Mahila Sangathan and Syeda Hameed from Muslim Women’s Forum – with the mission to understand how the 43-day-long lockdown had affected the natives of Kashmir traversed through the many villages of Shopian, Pulwama and Bandipora districts from the 17th to the 21st of September.
Apart from spending time in what was the summer capital of the former state, they visited hospitals, schools, homes and market places speaking to people hailing from urban and rural societies encompassing their young, aged, female and male populations.
In their summarised published report, titled ‘Women’s Voice: Fact-Finding Report on Kashmir’, the team says that their findings are their “chashmdeed gawahi (eye witness account) of ordinary people who have lived for 43 days under an iron siege.”
The report states that the team’s first visual account of Srinagar as they drove out of the airport was a deserted scene of closed shops, hotels, schools, colleges, institutes and universities.
Calling it a punitive mahaul (atmosphere), they say that the picture of Kashmir that conjured before their eyes was not the populist image painted with a shikara, houseboat, lotuses and the Dal Lake. It was of women – Zubeida, Shamima, Khurshida – standing at the door of their homes waiting with unblinking eyes for their 14, 15, 17, and 19-year-old sons, their last look fixed in their memory.
“We have been caged,” were words that echoed everywhere.
Lights Out At 8 PM
Across all villages of the four districts, people spoke of a ‘lights-out’ rule being imposed on them by the forces. Lights had to be turned off around 8 PM after Maghreb prayers.
In Bandipora, they saw a young girl who made the mistake of keeping a lamp lit to study for her exams hoping that her school might open soon. Eventually, Army men angered by this breach barged in and took away her father and brother for questioning.
“What questions?”, she didn’t know and she hasn’t dared to ask but her family hasn’t returned since.
“We insist the men go indoors after 6 PM. If absolutely necessary, the women go outside”, Zarina, from a village near Bandipora district headquarters said.
In the villages, where most toilets are placed inside the makeshift-compounds but outside living quarters, Zarina added that she couldn’t even switch on her phone for light to take her little girl to the toilet, because when light is spotted, their men pay with their lives.
Privately-Owned Public Transport, A Thing Of The Past
In Jammu and Kashmir, unlike the other states of India, there are no metros or state-sanctioned buses. Private companies run the everyday-transportation within towns and cities for the public. However, ever since the lockdown, the report states that privately-owned public transportation has been reduced to a memory.
People who had private cars took them out for essential chores while women stood on roadsides, flagging cars and bikes for lifts. People stopped and helped out, the shared helplessness of both sides became the unspoken bond.
Healthcare Handicapped By The Communication Block
“I was on my bike going towards Awantipora when a woman flagged me. On our way ahead, my bike lurched on a speed breaker and she was thrown off. I took her to the nearby hospital but she went into a coma. I am a poor man how could I pay for her treatment? How and who could I inform?” a man cried.
At Lalla Ded Women’s Hospital in Srinagar, several young women doctors expressed their absolute frustration at the hurdles that had been placed in their way since the abrogation of Article 370.
“There are cases where women cannot come in time for deliveries because there are very few ambulances and the few that are running are stopped at bunkers on the way. This has resulted in several cases of overdue deliveries that produce babies with birth deformities. It is a lifelong affliction, living death for parents”.
Conversely, the team was told that several women were delivering babies prematurely due to the stress and khauf (fear) in the present condition.
“It feels like the government is strangling us and then sadistically asking us to speak at the same time,” a young woman doctor said.
A senior doctor from Bandipora Hospital told them that people were coming from Kulgam, Kupwara, and other districts with cases of mental disorders and heart attacks.
Junior doctors desperately look for seniors, in cases of emergencies, but there is no way of reaching them on phone. If they are around the hospital’s premises when an emergency rises, “they run on the streets shouting, asking, searching in sheer desperation.”
One orthopaedic doctor from SKIMS was stopped at the army imposed blockade while he was going for duty. He was held for 7 days without a reason.
Safia, in Shopian who had had cancer surgery, said “I desperately need a check-up in case it has recurred and the only way for me is to go to the city, but I don’t know how I will get there. And if I do, will my doctor be there?”
Ayushman Bharat, an internet-based scheme, cannot be availed by doctors and patients since the 4th of August.
A Valley Without Sons, With Missing Children
“How do we know where they are? Our boys were taken and snatched away from our homes. To find out, our men go to the police station, where they are asked to go to the police headquarters”, women with eyes longing for their sons, told the team.
The fathers beg for rides from travellers and manage to get to the suggested offices in search of their boys. On the board in the offices are names of ‘stone-pelters’ who have been lodged in different jails of Agra, Jodhpur, Ambedkar and Jhajjar.
A man lamenting his emotional and financial situation said, “Baji (elder sister), we are crushed. A few of us who can beg and borrow, go hundreds of miles only to be pushed around by hostile jail guards in completely unfamiliar cities.”
When fathers go to rescue their children they are made to deposit money, anywhere between INR 20,000 to 60,000. “So palpable is their contempt for Kashmiri youth that when there is the knock on the door of a home, an old man is sent to open it.”
“We hope and pray they will spare a buzurg but they slaps all faces, regardless of whether they are old or young, or even very young.”
A woman recounted how they came for her 22-year-old son, but seeing a plaster on his hand, they took away her 14-year-old instead.
One estimate of ‘missing boys’ given to the team was of 13,000 since this lockdown.
Even young women complained of harassment by the forces as they were constantly asked to remove their niqabs and hijabs
Food Reserves Intentionally Damaged
“They don’t even spare our rations. During random checking of houses which occurs at odd hours of the night, the army persons come in and throw out the family”, a young man working as a Special Police Officer (SPO) told them.
“We keep a sizeable amount of rice, pulses, edible oil in reserve but when we’re thrown out, kerosene is mixed in the ration bins or koyla (coal)”, a local said.
Bitterness Amongst The Local Police And Populace
The fact-finding team spoke to a J&K policeman. All of them have been stripped of their commissioned guns and dandas.
“How do you feel, losing your guns?”, the team asked him. “Good because we were always afraid of them being snatched away and bad because we have no means now to defend ourselves in a shootout” he replied.
A woman security guard said, “The Indian government wants to make it like Palestine. But we, Kashmiris, will fight”.
A young professional told us, “We want freedom. We want neither India nor Pakistan. We will pay any price for this. Ye Kashmiri khoon hai. Koi bhi qurbani denge”.
Humiliated, Tired, But Invigorated For Azaadi
The desire for azaadi (self-determination) was inexorable. The team was told that the desolation they have suffered due to the humiliation and torture they have been subjected to since the past 70 years, has reached a point of no return after the abrogation of Article 370.
Some said that the move snapped their last tie with India, even for those people who always stood with the Indian State.
“So, what is the worth of us, the ordinary Kashmiris in their eyes?” Kashmiris ask since all their leaders have been booked under PSA or placed under house arrest.
As the report concludes giving a vivid account of the team’s experiences, they demand the restoration of all communication lines in Kashmir including internet and mobile networks, restoration of Article 370 and 35 A, demilitarisation, and initiation of the democratic dialogue. Further, the fact-finding brigade demands:
- Withdrawal of the Army and Paramilitary forces with immediate effect
- Cancellation of all cases and FIRs with the release of all those, especially the youth, who are under custody and in jail since the abrogation of Article 370
- Initiation of a fair inquiry on the allegations of widespread violence and tortures unleashed by security personnel.
- Compensation to all those families who lost their loved ones because of non-availability of transportation and absence of communication
With straightforward appeals in place, the report ends quoting the Hindi poet Dushyant, artistically connoting the way forward for Kashmir.
Ho gayi hai peerh parbat si pighalni chahiye
Iss Himalaya se koi Ganga nikalni chahiye