UCA News

Kashmir limps back to normalcy after 75 days of curfew

Communications gag affected all spheres of lives in the Muslim-majority area, local people say
Kashmir limps back to normalcy after 75 days of curfew

Fruit sellers busy packing apples at a wholesale market in Kashmir's Baramulla area on Oct. 18, four days after the government lifted a block on using cellphones.  (IANS photo)

Published: October 25, 2019 03:18 AM GMT
Updated: October 25, 2019 03:19 AM GMT

When after 75 days of absolute silence, the cellphone of Javaid Ali Sofi rang in the closet of his room, he searched for the source of that unusual song. He had forgotten its ringtone.

From Aug. 5 to Oct. 14, cellphone services in the violence-marred Kashmir Valley, India's northernmost Muslim-majority region, remained blocked.

The gag was part of a curfew that the federal government imposed after it amended laws to take away Kashmir's autonomy and statehood on Aug. 5.

The federal government, led by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, sealed roads, deployed troops on Kashmir's streets and cut landlines and the internet.

Police also detained more than 4,000 people, including politicians of opposition groups and human rights activists, to check any protest against the amendments.

The government gradually eased the curfew by opening up roads, schools and landline phones. Finally, on Oct. 14, cellphones began to work, but internet services remain suspended.

Government spokesman Rohit Kansal told media that the decision to restore cellphone services would benefit all sections of society, including students, traders,  teachers and office workers.

"But the damage has already been done. The 75 days of curfew have thrown businesses and lives out of gear. The government action is unpardonable," said Javaid Ali, a student pursuing graduation in sciences from a Srinagar college.

Ali, 22, lives in southern Kashmir's Pulwama area, a hotbed of militants continuing an armed struggle to end Indian rule in the region. They want to make it a free Islamic region or part of neighboring Pakistan, an Islamic nation.

Ali said the communications breakdown made the Kashmiri people feel "caged, choked and suffocated."

When a distant relative died during the period, his family had to cover several kilometers by foot to inform their relatives before burial.

Harvest season ruined

The government measures also destroyed farming and trade, said Ghulam Nabi Dar, an apple farmer from northern Kashmir's Sopore area.

He said September was the harvest season but farmers delayed harvesting because the blackout didn't allow them to communicate with traders, exporters and outside markets. "But that meant unbelievable loss," he said.

"Apple is a very delicate fruit. It turns rotten in no time. I saw all my orchard turning into a dumping site of rotten fruit this year," Dar told ucanews. "Even though the curbs have been lifted, the damage is done and cannot be mitigated." 

Three months ago, Atif Salam Lone opened a shop selling cellphones and other electronic gadgets on a bank loan of some US$7,000.  The curfew soon followed and he was forced to keep it shut except for a few days.

However, he has to pay monthly installments on the loan to the bank. "You wouldn't believe it. I don't even have money to buy a cigarette. I wonder what crime the Kashmiris had done to go through such hardships," said Lone.

Imtiaz Hassan,  a consultant for overseas jobs, said several of his clients lost job visas because they failed to communicate in time.

Yasir Ahmad, a researcher from the University of Kashmir, said he lost his post-doctoral fellowship.

"I couldn't apply for grants as there was no internet. I couldn't even tell my friends living outside Kashmir to apply on my behalf because the telephone service was snapped too," he said.

International grants are usually available in August and September for researchers but he and several other scholars missed the opportunity,  Ahmad said.

The trouble in Kashmir is linked with the partition of British India in 1947 when an independent India was formed by amalgamating Hindu-majority areas and Pakistan was created to accommodate Muslim-majority areas.

Since partition, Pakistan has claimed Kashmir entirely, citing its Muslim majority. But India claimed it in full based on an agreement signed by its then Hindu ruler Hari Singh to join India.

As part of the deal of joining India, Kashmir was given certain concessions and autonomy. The BJP removed the autonomy and made it two separate regions under federal rule.   

The India-Pakistan dispute over Kashmir has resulted in three major wars and continuing border tensions between the archrivals, who now each control portions of Kashmir.

The armed rebellion and India's efforts to end it have claimed at least 100,000 lives, including those of civilians, militants and members of the security forces.

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