It’s become a joke trying to call on a landline number in Kashmir ever since the unprecedented communication lockdown was imposed on the intervening night of 5-6 August, hours before Home Minister Amit Shah announced revocation of Article 370. To those who belong to the ‘trunk-call’ era, well the Valley has almost gone back to those times when an operator would connect your call.
And, even before you finished your greetings, the call would get cut. For starters, who uses landlines anymore? I don’t remember my own landline number in Kashmir. Even if you do, that’s not where it ends. A few dozen tries and if you are lucky then you might just get through. And only in certain localities.
This is part of the communication freeze that citizens of Kashmir valley find themselves in, left to their own devices to interpret the constitutional changes made and what lies in store for them. Their only access to information is a few news channels available – and that too for a fortunate few – or what they hear from relatives visiting from outside or a couple of local dailies that manage to print slim 4-5 page editions. These are basically filled with information fed by the daily briefing of the information department.
With no mobile network or internet, an entire population is living in silos, and in this black hole, the greatest source of information is hearsay, rumours and some more rumours.
‘Ab kya hoga? What happens next?’
A close friend who called me from her landline, which started working miraculously Sunday, said the most oft-repeated question in the Valley right now is, ‘Ab kya hoga?’ (What happens next?)
A question laced with fear and invariably leading to long debates and discussions. But no one has any answers. Only theories, fear-mongering and rumours. From fears of a genocide against Kashmiri Muslims to concentration camps being made where Kashmiris will be jailed – anything and everything is being thrown into the mix.
‘It’s Udta Kashmir next’
Remember the Shahid Kapoor-Alia Bhatt starrer Udta Punjab that captured the impact of massive drug abuse in Punjab? In the past one year, several reports have suggested an increasing use of narcotic drugs by youngsters in the Valley. After the revocation of Article 370, conspiracy theorists are connecting the drug use to a sinister plan of destroying the youth of Kashmir. Many are calling it a systematic wiping out of future generations of Kashmir.
‘English education will be stopped’
A lot of parents are worried sick about their children’s education and the uncertainty over their future. Many are contemplating moving abroad, fearing a backlash if they move to any other part of the country. Ironically, no one knows how to start the process since they have no access to internet to check out procedures and choices.
The less privileged can’t even think of this option and rue the loss of another school year. The last time it happened was in 1990 when I was in seventh grade and everyone was mass promoted across all schools – public and private. One rumour that has only exacerbated the fears is that all English-medium schools in the Valley will be shut down.
‘Omar & Mehbooba have cut a deal with Modi’
The anger against the local mainstream leadership is palpable and almost everyone I spoke to said that they will have to face the wrath of the Kashmiri people. No sympathy for the solitary confinement that these leaders find themselves in or how their rights have been taken away.
Instead many say that most of the leadership had prior knowledge that the revocation of Article 370 would happen and made themselves scarce so that they don’t have to face their own people.
Centre must clarify
The rumours might sound hyperbolic but are spreading widespread panic. Many ‘experts’ say a communication lockdown will prevent the ‘troublemakers’ from disrupting law and order. But that argument is weak and with each passing day, the lockdown is having just the opposite effect. The local population is terrified of what will happen next and is willing to believe the worst-case scenario no matter how bizarre it might sound.
Why can’t the home minister clarify the next steps that the government is planning to take? How long is the local leadership going to be under detention? And most importantly, when is the communication lockdown going to end?
To all those who say the people of the Valley must understand that this is for national security, well the stage seems to be set for an implosion. The Centre must clarify. Time is running out.
The author is a Mumbai-based freelance journalist. Views are personal.