Unlike most of the world, the COVID-related lockdowns of 2020 weren't a massive adjustment for the Kashmiri population. Why?
Kashmiris under Indian Administration had been subject to an inhumane internet shutdown and curfews enforced by the Indian military since late 2019.
On August 2019, Prime Minister Narendra Modi abrogated Article 37, which (on paper) gave Kashmir a special status and some degree of legal autonomy as a separate state to India. Naturally, the Kashmiri's worldwide took to the streets, protesting against this injustice which was met with incredible violence and destruction by the Indian forces. Schools were shut, internet was shutdown, social media was censored even more than usual and a strict curfew was enforced in the already extremely militarised region. Kashmir remains to this day, one of the most militarised zones in the world. (1)
The first COVID-19 positive case was detected on 9th March 2020 in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) . As of 28 July 2020, J&K have reported 18,879 positive cases and 333 people have lost their lives so far. In comparison to the Jammu division, Kashmir is the worst hit division with 14,812 positive cases and 309 reported fatalities as compared to Jammu division where only 4,067 cases and 24 reported deaths (2). See below for more details.
On top of this, the huge mental health crisis in Kashmir has been reported since the 90's to no avail but one can only imagine that the extended periods of lockdown this past year have only worsened this- especially for women in the perinatal period (3, 4). In recent studies, more than half (56%) of the elderly population were found to have depression associated with hopelessness and suicidal ideation (5). The difficulties those struggling with their mental health face in getting support that they would like and ultimately, need, has also been explored (6) .
Although the restrictions due to COVID-19 have made sense and are vital in reducing the transmission of the disease, for Kashmiri's, it's just another agenda for the military to use to control them. An insightful investigation by Hamid and Jahangir(3), found that:
"On one hand, such restrictions proved helpful in curbing the spread of COVID-19, however on the other hand it changed the whole scenario of death, dying and mourning practices in Kashmir. "
Online streaming of funerals is a way to overcome this issue, but the use of this method may be limited due to the frequent internet shutdowns in Kashmir. To worsen this matter of death, dying and mourning- three hospitals; Jhelum Valley College (JVC) Bemina Hospital, Chest Disease (CD) Hospital, and the Jawahar Lal Nehru Memorial (JLNM) Hospital- have been fully dedicated for COVID-19 patients only, affecting normal patient care greatly. This placed a bigger burden on remaining hospitals to provide all the other general healthcare facilities for the public.
In such conditions, those who were in need of immediate treatment faced difficulties in managing it and in some cases, people were not able to reach hospitals in good time. This issue was further highlighted by the Doctors Association Kashmir (DAK) president, who stated that emergency patient care in Kashmir has been badly hit, since the focus currently is mostly on COVID-related cases. It is due to such reasons that people are dying more from other health conditions in Kashmir (7).
The politicisation of the COVID-19 lockdown in Kashmir has meant not much of a difference between the curfew-led lockdown in 2019 and COVID-19 led lockdown in 2020. In both situations, Kashmiris have been powerless against military injustice in the region. In many instances, police brutality and vehicle vandalism of family members of the infected have been reported, emphasising the sheer audacity of military occupation in the region.
Despite this, Hamid and Jahangir (3) remain hopeful towards
"the community members or volunteers who, despite the risks, provide all services to the family members of the deceased persons in such complex situations need to be encouraged and acknowledged. There is also scope for Non-governmental Organisations (NGOs), Self Help Groups (SHGs) and Local committees to come forward and provide every possible support to the dying individuals and their families amid this critical situation."
As early as 3rd of January (8) 2021, there were reports of intended roll-outs of the Covishield vaccine (the Indian derivative of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine) to J&K, with vaccine rollouts soon after (9-12). This was followed by worrying reports that “more than 80% of healthcare workers have turned down the vaccine” (13,14) from the president of the Doctors Association of Kashmir (DAK) with no apparent investigation as to why this was. Although, there was a report (15) about lack of clarity in the vaccination policy in J&K, suggesting an increasing mistrust of a population already traumatised by Indian authority in the region.
Interestingly, unlike the UK Vaccination policy where healthcare/frontline workers were vaccinated first, followed promptly by the elderly and vulnerable populations- it’s the police, army, paramilitary, other security agencies and officials of Municipalities and revenue departments who were vaccinated in the second phase (16). Most of the above occupations are held by those constantly asserting dominance to the Kashmiri population. Despite this, a month ago- when the third phase targeting the elderly began- a source claimed that 70% of health workers had now been vaccinated. This third phase is targeting 1,500,000 of those above 60 as well as 45-59 year olds with co-morbidities (17).
How the politics of health and vaccination has been unfolding in Kashmir is largely unknown, as many probably fear Indian authorities in criticising too much- but ultimately- when a population has been oppressed for so long by an authority, it is hard for that same population to digest any health protective efforts being taken by that same authority without mistrust, suspicion and ultimately, a rebellious acceptance.
Disclaimer: the views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text belong solely to the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Identity International.
Kashmiri: Beyond Conflict: Webinar Series. Identity International: Watch here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLKO_c9ECXwPG_6tau9cO3sZJwpUJ52DbH
Peer, M. (2020, July 28). Doctor among 12 die in JK: 489 more cases in 24 hrs, tally 18,879. Rising Kashmir. https://epaper.risingkashmir.com/
Shoib S, Yasir Arafat SM. Mental health in Kashmir: conflict to COVID-19. Public Health. 2020 Oct;187:65-66. doi: 10.1016/j.puhe.2020.07.034. Epub 2020 Sep 11. PMID: 32927290; PMCID: PMC7484691.
Shoib S, Arafat SMY, Ahmad W. Perinatal Mental Health in Kashmir, India During The COVID-19 Pandemic. Matern Child Health J. 2020 Nov;24(11):1365-1366. doi: 10.1007/s10995-020-03004-3. PMID: 32902800; PMCID: PMC7479397.
Hamid W, Jahangir MS. Dying, Death and Mourning amid COVID-19 Pandemic in Kashmir: A Qualitative Study. OMEGA - Journal of Death and Dying. August 2020. doi:10.1177/0030222820953708
Shoib S, Islam SMS, Arafat SY, Hakak SA. Depression and suicidal ideation among the geriatric population of Kashmir, India. Int J Soc Psychiatry. 2020 Oct 24:20764020968592. doi: 10.1177/0020764020968592. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 33100095.
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Economic Times. COVID-19 vaccine dry run held across Jammu and Kashmir. 2021 Jan 7. Available at: https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/covid-19-vaccine-dry-run-held-across-jammu-kashmir/videoshow/80078851.cms?from=mdr
Wani, Riyaz. “COVID-19 vaccination begins in Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh.” Down to Earth. 2021 Jan 17. Available at: https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/health/covid-19-vaccination-begins-in-jammu-kashmir-and-ladakh-75095
Ashiq, Peerzada. “J&K kicks off anti-COVID-19 drive with 4,000 doses”. The Hindu. 2021 Jan 16. Available at: https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/jk-kicks-off-anti-covid-19-drive-with-4000-doses/article33589046.ece
Ul Haq, Shuja. “First batch of vaccines arrive in Jammu and Kashmir.” India Today. 2021 Jan 13. Available at: https://www.indiatoday.in/coronavirus-outbreak/story/first-batch-vaccines-arrive-jammu-kashmir-1758747-2021-01-13
Kashmir News Service. “Kashmir’s 83 percent healthcare workers opt out of COVID-19 vaccine: DAK”. 2021 Feb 12. Available at: http://www.knskashmir.com/kashmir-s-83-percent-healthcare-workers-opt-out-of-covid-19-vaccine--dak-62682
The Kashmiri Walla. “83% healthcare workers in Kashmir refused COVID-19 vaccine, claims doctors’ association”. 2021 Feb 12. Available at: https://thekashmirwalla.com/2021/02/83-healthcare-workers-in-kashmir-refused-covid-19-vaccine-claims-doctors-association/
National Herald India. “ People of J&K worried about govt’s silence on COVID-19 vaccination policy: Prof Saifuddin Soz”. 2021 Jan 25. Available at: https://www.indiatoday.in/coronavirus-outbreak/story/first-batch-vaccines-arrive-jammu-kashmir-1758747-2021-01-13
ANI.“ Covid-19 vaccination of cops, other frontline workers begins in Kashmir”. 2021 Feb 4. Available at: https://www.aninews.in/news/national/general-news/covid-19-vaccination-of-cops-other-frontline-workers-begins-in-kashmir20210204180035/
Observer News Service. “Third Phase of Covid-19 Vaccination Begins.” 2021 Mar 1. Available at:https://kashmirobserver.net/2021/03/01/third-phase-of-covid-19-vaccination-begins/