While moving down the streets, I can feel the eeriness across the roads, there is hardly any traffic noise or noise of people walking around. It maybe soothing for some, but it is an indication of misery. There is a strange silence occupying the environment here.
The conditions have been the same even before the Covid pandemic hit Jammu and Kashmir. It all started with the lockdown imposed in August 2019 as a result of the government’s decision to revoke Article 370 that gave the erstwhile state a special status. The restrictions had barely been eased when a second lockdown, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, was imposed in the entire country.
The living conditions in the Valley have been deteriorating ever since late 1980s when militancy erupted in the region. Thousands have been killed and made to flee their homes, while others have been left waiting for normalcy to prevail.
The militancy of the 1990s was followed by months of curfew in 2008 and 2010, and then in 2016. In between, a devastating earthquake hit the Valley in 2005, whereas in 2014, the capital city of Srinagar was inundated after a massive flood.
Normal life has now become a desperate desire for every Kashmiri. Two of the most important aspects of present-day life in Kashmir are discussed here.
While frequent terror strikes and curfews since 1990s had meant less school days compared to other parts of the country, the children have been deprived of attending their schools since 2019 as a consequence of the lockdown after Article 370 was scrapped.
The Covid-19 lockdown further aggravated their condition. The education of children in J&K has seen an irreparable void of two years that cannot be filled. This is especially true for students of classes 10 and 12 who were forced to study on their own.
The ban on internet in the Valley was an even bigger hurdle for their studies. Nevertheless, Kashmiri students managed to pass their board exams with flying colours. It will still be interesting to see how they perform in competitive exams where they will be competing with students from all over the country who will have the advantage of classroom coaching.
The students of Kashmir may never be able to have a smooth education amid the hostile political conditions, as there is a constant cycle of disturbances that keep hitting the region periodically. As a result, most students aspire to pursue their higher studies out of state, or even abroad — for those who can afford it. That way, they may at least be able to save their future and dream of a normal life.
The business sector has faced losses of hundreds of crores since August 2019. The markets have mostly been deserted ever since. Shopkeepers are often seen sitting outside their shops waiting for someone to purchase their goods. Similarly, hotels and guesthouses that used to earn from tourists visiting the state have been left nearly abandoned.
A large number of restaurants have remained shut for months causing tremendous loss for the owners as well as workers. Thousands have been unemployed and pushed into poverty. Many changed their profession to earn a livelihood for their families. And the condition of labourers is grievous since their salaries are mostly paid on a daily basis and they have been left with no money.
In recent months, the tourism sector and the businesses dependent on weddings have been among the worst-hit industries in Kashmir.
The tourism sector was once the maximum profit-making industry in the Valley. There was a time when a large number of tourists from all over the country and abroad used to visit Kashmir to witness its mesmerising scenic beauty.
However, in recent decades, this sector has been a victim of several unfavourable conditions. Nowadays, only a few tourists visit Kashmir because of the uncertain and hostile environment.
Regular coverage in the media highlighting the tense conditions in the Valley has created an image of Kashmir as a forbidden place. While successive governments have regularly claimed to make efforts to revive tourism in Kashmir, the local residents have been eagerly waiting to see that happen.
Weddings are a means of livelihood for many in the Valley. As a result of the 2019 lockdown, most of the wedding functions were postponed to 2020. They were then postponed even further to 2021 and 2022, due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
People whose livelihood comes from wedding functions such as the transgender community who sing and dance in weddings were left helpless, as most of the functions were cut down on scale. There is a hope that 2022 will be a better year and the losses people suffered will be compensated.
Faria is a student of Government College for Women, Srinagar