Communication blackout, troops build up leave Kashmiris anxious, fearful and restless

Srinagar: Following restrictions on movement and a communications blackout for a third consecutive day in the Kashmir Valley, people are frustrated and struggling to get information. A heavy deployment of government forces on the ground has not only triggered panic and chaos, but made them feel like they're living in jail.

On Monday, Union Home Minister Amit Shah introduced a bill scrapping the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, which is mentioned under Articles 370 and 35A in the Constitution. The bill also includes declaring Jammu and Kashmir a Union Territory with legislature and Ladakh as a separate Union Territory without legislature. To stop the protest against the bill, the government has imposed a complete suspension of all the means of communication including cellular, internet, landlines, commercial and domestic broadband, and even lease lines. Further, Section 144 under the Code of Criminal Procedure, curfew has also been imposed.

The BJP had prepared the groundwork to avoid any mass agitation against the revocation of special status to Jammu and Kashmir by asking tourists and Amarnath pilgrims to leave the state "as soon as possible". This triggered panic among Kashmiri civilians. Governor Satya Pal Malik justified the move as 'preparation for a terror threat' — something that was considered later on Monday as a smoke screen, when the decision to abrogate the state's special status entered the public domain.

Communication blackouts and frisking

On Sunday, Hameed-ullah Khan, 32, a resident of north Kashmir's Kupwara district — around 100 kilometres from Srinagar, left his home with his wife Shaheena, 29, to take her for a medical checkup in the locality. Soon, doctors from the local hospital referred her to Srinagar's Lal Ded Hospital, the only maternity hospital in the Valley, for further treatment.

Srinagar's Lal Ded Hospital. Firstpost/ Kaisar

Hameed and Shaheena rushed to Srinagar, with the former deciding to update their family once he got a proper opinion from the doctors at Lal Ded. But, at midnight, authorities suspended all modes of communication in the Valley — internet, TV and mobile phone services — leaving most residents with no connection to the outside world. The tight restrictions across the Valley had kept people in their homes.

"I turned restless and blank. I had around Rs 900 in my pocket and was worried about what to do," said Hameed. Sitting in the corridor of the hospital along with other attendants, Hameed (a daily-wage worker at Public Health Engineering) mentioned that he had not consumed anything except two cups of tea since the previous night. "I am running out of money and have no way to arrange for any more. I am worried that if I need to buy more medicines for my wife, how will I manage?" he asked while rubbing his forehead from stress. Many others in the hospital share similar accounts.

Now, people only receive news from ambulance drivers who arrive from different locations. Whenever an ambulance arrives from far-flung areas of the Valley, attendants run behind the vehicles to find out if there is any information from their homes. "Back home, I have two daughters (eight and five years of age) and I have not seen them since 4 August. I have no idea whether they are alright or not. It seems we are in a jail where the moving space is barely wider than that in a jail cell," Hameed said with a sigh.

Mukhtar Maqbool, an attendant, said that the move by the Centre had shaken him emotionally. "We lost our identity, dignity and all what we have been claiming so far — Kashmiriyat. We will now feel like second-class citizens. We have no hope other than the mercy of the Almighty. He will turn things better for us," he sobbed.

Tariq Ahmad, 42, an ambulance driver from south Kashmir's Anantnag district (known locally as Islamabad) said he has been in this department since decades and worked throughout the Valley’s 2016 uprising, sparked by the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani. But, the current situation according to him is worse.

"We are facing problems in travelling. Forces are checking us after every five kilometres and enquiring about our movement," said Ahmad. He has been working for the past 60 hours to ferry patients from south Kashmir’s Anantnag district to Lal Ded Hospital. "Since Tuesday, I have made six rounds from Anantanag to Srinagar and faced harsh treatment by the forces every time. My family has no idea of my whereabouts since I left."

In Srinagar, an indefinite security lockdown is in place, confining millions to their homes. Government forces have put steel and razor wire barricades on the roads every 100 metres, creating hurdles in the movement of essential services. Creating such a situation for the people for 'security reasons' has made Ahmad regret taking up this job. "If the situation persists in the Valley, I want to resign for my safety," he said bluntly.

Protests against the decision by the Centre have emerged in different parts of the Valley. To disperse protesters, the armed forces used bullets, pellets and tear gas canisters, leaving scores of mostly young protesters injured. As per hospital sources, there were cases of pellet injuries caused by the projectiles being aimed above the chest. The government has insisted that the ground situation remains peaceful even as it has refused to clarify when the restrictions will be lifted.

On Wednesday, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval chaired a high-level meeting in Srinagar and was briefed about the ongoing situation. Doval also met the governor, who reviewed the law and order scenario in the state and was informed by state officials that the overall situation was "satisfactory". He also interacted with locals.

Downtown Srinagar wears a deserted look. Firstpost/Kaisar Andrabi

Betrayal of trust and unending fight

"They imprisoned entire populations inside their homes and took the [Article 370] decision without letting people express their will. It can never be a successful decision and will create a wider gap between them (Centre) and us. They snatched our identity and slaughtered the trust of masses," said Mohammad Shafiq a resident of the Natipora area of Srinagar. He added, "We are in mourning and they are celebrating. There will be no one to listen to us now," he said sadly.

Many like Shafiq believe that although the Central government has passed the bill in Parliament, it was only after laying siege to the entire Valley. "This will not weak our spirit of fight for freedom. This is what Israel did with the Palestine, but do they (Palestinians) stop? No. We will fight till death," said 29-year-old Mudasir Nissar from the Chanapora area of Srinagar, who was waiting for his turn outside the Ultrasound Graphy (USG) section of Lal Ded Hospital for his wife's report.

Dr Nusrat Rehman, who works at the hospital, said that due to the communication block, it has become difficult to communicate with the doctor and paramedical staff in the Emergency department.

Meanwhile, non-local labourers who have worked in Kashmir for decades were seen waiting at ticket counters at Srinagar's tourist taxi stand. "What will we do here? Everything has been shut for days, and there is no business left. It's scary and we want to save ourselves," said 31-year-old Dilshad Khan from Bihar.

Families worried about the fate of children studying outside the Valley

The communications barricade in the Valley has made scores of parents whose children are studying outside the state anxious. "I don't have any contact with my 26-year-old daughter pursuing a BTech from Chandigarh. We have been under siege in our homes for more than 72 hours now and there is no hope of any restoration of communications. I am worried for her safety and don’t know what to do," said 58-year-old Nissar Ahmad from Jawaharnagar, a civil lines area of Srinagar.

Hafeeza Bano, a 43-old-year woman from Nowhata area in old downtown Srinagar waits for her son Shahid Altaf, 22, who is pursuing his a bachelors degree in forensic science in Bengaluru. The mother and son would spend hours on video calls, but since Sunday, she has not heard a single word from him. "When I last spoke to him, he informed me that he required money to pay the security deposit for a new flat he was to move into," recalled Bano. She was supposed to deposit the money the very next day, but due to the curfew, she is unable to do so.

from Firstpost India Latest News