JK Bank

Note: Due to the ongoing communication blockade in Kashmir, where the government has snapped all internet and mobile services, The Kashmir Walla is being updated from New Delhi.

Walking on the Amira Kadal Bridge in Srinagar, a 65-year-old woman was dodging concertina wire barricades and government forces’ checkpoints, while negligible vehicles passed by.

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Sweeping sweat from her forehead, she looked around in confusion. Seemingly annoyed, I thought of guiding her.

“Where are you going?” I enquired.

She looked at me and replied, “Pantha Chowk.” This old lady – Hameeda Bano, could have easily asked for a ride but decided not to. “It’s better to walk because you can’t trust the random people,” she said, and making an excuse, she added, “Moreover, walking is good for health.”

After walking side by side for more than a kilometer, struggling with her thoughts, while talking about the prevailing situation, she said, “I would tell you the truth. Actually, my granddaughter is getting married. I came to buy her a new pheran as a gift. But nothing is open.”

On the morning of 5 August 2019, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led coalition National Democratic Alliance (NDA) abrogated the special status of the state of Jammu and Kashmir (J-K), cited under Article 370 and Article 35A of the Constitution. It also presented the J-K Reorganization Bill 2019 – proposing the bifurcation of the state into two union territories, Ladakh and J-K.

While the bill was presented in the parliament, the longest communication gag had just started in the Kashmir Valley.

Ms. Bano had to walk 15 kilometers with the hope that she could buy the gift. After searching every corner of the market, to see whether any garment shop was open, she returned with disappointment on her face.

“This is how we have to live in Kashmir,” she said. “We are living in a hell.”

Before parting ways, Ms. Bano said, “I have seen situation turning bad in Kashmir but never like this. We have lost everything now, what are we left with?”

Since the government abrogation of the special status of J-K, the life in Kashmir has become stagnant. After a month of communication gag – now, the common people are settling down with it. The smartphones in the digital age have lost the relevance.

On the second week after the clampdown, I had gone to report about a few pellet victims at Shri Maharaja Hari Singh (SMHS) hospital. While coming back, I met one of my colleagues at a medical shop in Srinagar.

In the medical shop, I saw two young teenage girls entering into the shop – shyly. Their male accompanies were waiting outside the shop. Inside, they asked for the sanitary pads in a low voice.

“In these situations, our families ask us hundreds of questions before we leave the house,” one of them said. “We can’t move out without giving them a genuine reason. Hence, we had to come out with our brothers.”

Surrendering to the suffocation inside home – while annoyed at the same time – both of the young girls had to “disclose the reason to younger brothers” – explaining the urgency regarding why they had to go out of their homes?

Clampdown and Mental Health

In the initial weeks of the clampdown, the inflow of patients had increased in the mental health clinic at SMHS Hospital from across the valley – coming up for the treatment of mental health problems.

“In these conditions the panic attacks among people increases that’s why we see an increased inflow of patients now,” said a senior nursing psychiatrist, Shabnam Bashir at the hospital.

Wearing black cloak, a lady standing near the entry of mental health clinic, was continuously looking here and there; staring at the entry at OPD section.

She said she is there to see Dr. Arshad Hussain, the senior psychiatrist, who had gone to the emergency ward to attend a patient, “We have to meet him today, it’s his time of leaving but we hardly managed to come here.” She didn’t move from that particular place only not to lose the sight of the doctor, “I talked to Mr. Hussain and he said he will come back.”

Suraiya Jan had travelled from Tral area, almost 45kms, for the treatment of her sister, Mubeena Bano, who is on her mental health treatment from last three years. They usually visit the hospital for her weekly checkup and medicines.

Only after a few days of the communication blackout and strict restrictions, Ms. Jan’s sister, Ms. Bano had started having health complications. “She ran out of medicines and we don’t get those medicines in Tral,” said Ms. Jan, standing perturbed outside the mental health clinic.

Ms. Jan’s sister Ms. Bano was sitting on the bench with other patients disturbed and annoyed as they had a hectic travel from their place, “we almost took lift from four different vehicles and it annoyed her.”

On 8 August, three days after the article 370 and 35a were abrogated; Ms. Jan along with her family had to get the curfew pass to reach the hospital in their private vehicle. They knew the risk of coming out of their home in such circumstances, however, she wonders, “What other option they had?”

Today, Ms. Bano visited the hospital for the second time. Though, she had to ask for a ride from Tral to Srinagar. “Being a female it becomes quite difficult to ask for the ride, it’s very hard to trust random strangers,” she said, “But what else we would have done?”

Defying her brother’s wish to accompany her, who has a car, Ms. Bano came alone with Ms. Jan. “We live in a volatile area, where even medical shops aren’t properly open. It becomes problematic for any male to accompany us. Forces ask them many questions. So we preferred to come like this.”

After waiting for three hours for her check-up, on her way back, Ms. Bano was looking for an ambulance going towards her area – South Kashmir, or even a private vehicle, which could drop her home.

Exams and digital age:                                              

Haziqa Sheikh, a 19-year-old student, currently pursuing Bachelor in History, was struggling to find the reading material for her upcoming exams. From somewhere, she heard of the internet facility at the Srinagar’s multi-starrer hotel, RK Sarovar.

She had seen a notification in a local newspaper about her upcoming exams, which were scheduled before the Eid. “I saw the notification in paper and I guess our papers are set,” said Ms. Sheikh. Cursing the slow internet speed at the media facilitation centre, she added, “There is a lot of stress. I don’t think I would be able to download enough study material from here.”

Ms. Sheikh is stuck in her home since the clampdown. She said that in the initial two weeks of the communication blackout, she was hoping for internet and phone services to restore – wondering of the times when her friends were just a call away. “I am not able to contact any of them. I don’t even know their addresses. How will I get the study material?”

Her parents hadn’t allowed her to venture out of her house in the current situation. Though, when they saw her worried about her studies, “they allowed her”, but with a limit – “She should come back home as soon as possible.”

However, in the media facilitation center, she could only download the study material for one paper. In the digital age, many college students and scholars prefer the internet over books. “I cannot afford buying so many books,” she said. “I used to study on the internet.”

This story originally appeared in the 2-8 September 2019 print edition of The Kashmir Walla.