Kashmir, Kashmir covid, coronavirus kashmir
Photograph by Umer Asif for The Kashmir Walla

In India, the coronavirus pandemic will be remembered for the migrant crisis that the last-minute announcement of the lockdown by Prime Minister Narendra Modi created. Thousands of migrant workers flocked from the big cities to their native villages in India’s vast rural expanse, as the lockdown left them unemployed.

Scenes of helplessness and misery dominated the media space with painful videos going viral, be it the one of a child trying to wake up his dead mother on a railway station or the video of a migrant carrying his children on a bicycle walking barefoot in the soaring temperatures prompting a journalist to gift his shoes to the worker as he broke down.

The virus has also badly hit the Kashmir Valley that is still struggling with an unfolding crisis. However, with cases shooting up every day and the virus turning deadly, fear and panic has once again gripped the populace.

The condition that has brought anxiety among the residents of the Valley is the emergence of bi-lateral pneumonia, killing and affecting people irrespective of their age and comorbidities. So when 64-year-old Afroza Makhdoomi of Srinagar’s Ilahi Bagh area succumbed to the fatal disease, Kashmir’s ongoing pandemic crisis slipped and showed itself through the shroud of silence.

A viral video showed M.s Makhdoomi’s distraught sons struggling to remove their mother’s body from the Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS), the only help being provided by the hospital being a shabby stretcher. The video was filmed by one of the sons and showed the Makhdoomi brothers wearing full PPE kits and masks as they yell angrily before breaking down over the hospital’s apathy.

“She was my everything, my support during my struggling days and my backbone,” Mr. Rameez Makhdoomi said of her mother,  one of the more than 200 victims of COVID-19 in Jammu and Kashmir. “While she was fit and suffered from no comorbidity, what further broke our heart was how her dead body was desecrated, she deserved a better stretcher and a better farewell. Everyone does.”

Mr. Rameez further said that he was now looking to do something in the remembrance of his mother. “She died a martyr and did so much for us. I want to do something for her too, I don’t want people to suffer like we did. Therefore, I might set up a group that can help those who find themselves in situations like we did. And have no one to help except God,” he said.

The video was shared by hundreds and garnered thousands of views as well as angry and emotional reactions from netizens who termed the hospital’’s action, or rather inaction, as sheer incompetence and questioned the administration’s failure.

In response, the hospital stated: “When the patient in question expired, it was conveyed to District Administration and Health authorities by control room SKIMS, Nodal officer as well as Medical Superintendent”. The Institute, through the statement, also said that the “delay in receiving team from concerned officials created anxiety among patient attendants when SHO Police Station Soura was contacted to receive dead body from SKIMS.”

SKIMS has stopped providing ambulance services, coffins and staff for burial, as “they’re not part of a protocol”, the statement added. While the stretcher saga ended after the woman was buried, there seems to be a serious crisis situation brewing in Kashmir.

The anger over the administration failure has turned people against the frontline workers-doctors. In one week, doctors have been harassed and beaten by attendants at least twice in Srinagar, prompting the COVID-19 warriors who have been toiling hard to save lives despite a faulty infrastructure to call  strike which was thankfully called off soon.

However, hours after the doctors and other paramedical staff called-off their strike, the resident doctors on Saturday evening “fled from the hospital to save their lives” after two of their colleagues and a security guard was assaulted by the attendants at the cardiology ward.

Talking to a local news gathering agency Kashmir News Observer (KNO), Dr. Bilal Ahmad Mir, Senior Resident General Medicine, said that a patient was very ill while a resident doctor who was treating the patient at cardiology ward was beaten by some attendants.

The incident garnered widespread reaction, with some blaming the doctors of the valley saying that they have made a bad reputation for themselves over the years. However, the vast majority of people seem to be on the side of doctors who they say are vital to fight the pandemic. A raging debate on social media has also ensued over the unfortunate incidents with people mostly taking side of the doctors.

As if this crisis was not enough to add to the anxiety of Kashmiris, the shortage of Remdesivir drug used for treating mild or severe cases of COVID-19 is running short in the valley, “I don’t understand what was the administration doing during the imposition of lockdown. I mean how can drugs that are saving lives run short,” said Mr. Rameez Makhdoomi while questioning the government. “Although we were able to get it through using our contacts, most people are complaining that they are not able to get it.”

While the effectiveness of the drug is not yet established, doctors in valley are prescribing it which is clear by the scores of social media posts requesting for it, “Need only one dose of Remdesivir for my cousin who is on ventilator,” wrote Shazia Shah on a Facebook group dedicated for COVID-19. Posts like these are replete on other platforms too.

The shortage has led to questions about the administration’s role in tackling the virus and whether it is prepared to cater to patients that are only growing with every passing day.

While the barefooted migrant worker on his way home was lucky enough to find a samaritan who gifted him his shoes, it remains to be seen if Kashmiris will find a samaritan to get them out of the crisis that looms large.

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