A lot can happen in a year.
On 5 August 2019, I woke up in New Delhi to the silence of my father. Since I had last spoken to my mother 12 hours earlier, Kashmir had been switched off from the circuit board of connectivity, and stripped of the special status afforded to it by the Indian Constitution under Article 370.
There were differing views on this move for the abrogation of Article 370, and everyone had something to say about it. Everyone –– except the people of Kashmir. We watched our identity being taken away, our fates being judged, and the Valley being unable to react.
Kashmir was silenced.
‘Mujhe Ghar Jaana Hai’
I left for a scheduled visa appointment one day prior, and had to return to patrolled streets, shuttered down store fronts, and an Eid marked by greetings that could not penetrate the veil of the undemocratic silence surrounding Kashmir. If it took the stealth of a blanket communications blockade to go through with the removal of J&K’s status, the intentions, morality and legality of the matter certainly raise doubts and suspicions.
And so began the two longest days of my life.
The countless phone calls we made, the connection that was never established, the messages that were not delivered, the excruciating knowledge of not knowing what had happened, and the insignificance of the bustle of life around me are as vivid today as they were distressing a year ago.
I was painfully aware of the absence of incoming notifications. The only solace I found was in the people in a similar situation as me, cut off from their homes, unsure of what to hope for. As I scrolled through social media, refreshing again and again for some news of Kashmir, I came across messages of desperation, and tweets full of fear. One particular tweet stands out to me even today: “mujhe ghar jaana hai” –– I had never had a stronger desire as I did then to be back home in Kashmir. As I saw posts and displays on Facebook turning ‘red’ out of solidarity, the unchanged profiles of friends and family in Kashmir bothered me. They remained ignorant of our distress.
Kashmir Post-370: Psychological Weathering & Suffering
As always, the empathy of many mainstream Indians remained largely unavailable for the Kashmiris, as people took to social media to describe their ‘joy’ at the now ‘accessible’ Kashmir –– ‘its land, and its women’.
Over the last one year, Kashmir has been brought under the direct control of the central government for a supposed ‘integration’ with the rest of India as an integral part. So far all we’ve seen are draconian measures to silence the population into submission: through economic paralysis (as a result of months of shutdown); the uncertainty of earning and maintaining a livelihood; the constant disruption to any normal activity, from schooling, to celebrating festivals, to seeking comfort in entertainment media.
The psychological weathering from not being able to connect with friends and relatives has added to long years of suffering, mental health deterioration, and trauma.
The fact that the Indian government carried out the largest internet shutdown in a ‘democracy’ with 7 months of disrupted service is not as appalling to the rest of the world, or India itself, as it should be. That there were people like me, unable to call their families for weeks, unable to exploit the magic of video calls for months, seemed to me to be accepted as the ‘new normal’. Is this the new Kashmir, allegedly on its way to ‘growth and prosperity’?
A Lot Can Happen In A Year –– But Kashmir Remains The Same
Everyone loves to debate and discuss the politics of Kashmir. But everyone overlooks the existence of real people caught in a humanitarian crisis. There is no empathy for the hundreds of people who suffered medically under a communications blockade, or for the students of Kashmir. The last time they put on their school uniforms is past the statute of ethical deprivation of education by about 364 days.
When the coronavirus pandemic made the entire world shift online, Kashmir was left behind.
When students in Zoom classes were making memes, a big part of the Kashmiri population dependent on mobile internet services were having trouble even downloading the app on the backs of 2G internet.
In 2019, I left home for the very first time to live alone in a new country. My family did not know whether I had safely arrived for days. I could not see their faces for months. News trickled slowly out of Kashmir; it was as if they didn’t exist.
On 5 August 2020, Kashmir has been placed under another curfew –– and could very likely witness another government mandated shutdown on its ‘2G only’ internet services. A lot can happen in a year –– but Kashmir remains the same.
(Farheen Nahvi is from Kashmir. She is a 2nd year student at Sciences Po, Paris. This is a personal blog, and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)