Curfewed Days and Curfewed Nights – Let us all be Kashmiris, even for a day?


We cannot be absolutely sure if the “Janta Curfew” (People’s Curfew) advocated by PM Narendra Modi in his speech to the nation about the corona-virus is in earnest (for the good of the people!) or a foretaste of the kind of curfewing that the citizens have to get used to if the corona pandemic continues. Or if it is some kind of nod towards the curfew culture that Kashmir has borne for decades now – and is still bearing during the current lockdown: just a foretaste of the kinds of control the state can impose.

It is very interesting to note at this point that when the CAA, NRC and NPR were proposed, many Kashmiri activists felt that the kind of infringement on rights encompassed by those laws was making the entire country into Kashmir.

However, curfews have a unique and painful meaning for Kashmiris, and someone as sensitive and perceptive as the poet Agha Shahid Ali put their salience in poetic language:

“The city from where no news can come
Is now so visible in its curfewed nights
that the worst is precise…”

So, can a corona curfew do to the apathetic souls of the rest of India what no amount of reporting from Kashmir, however slim and scarce, has been able to do? Can the curfew, preceded by the run on groceries and essentials – mostly by the middle and upper classes – give the rest of India some idea of how it must be for Kashmiris to be subject to months on months of lockdowns? Lockdowns with heavy military presence, with endless checkpoints, and with dwindling supply of food and medicines? Lockdowns with all manner of communication shutdown, including phones and the internet?

That seems doubtful. As is already obvious from all around the world, the people who are already being affected are the ones who can least afford to: hourly-and-daily-wage workers who bus tables as an example, work in retail, run a food kiosk, sell curios, hawk vegetables on a cart, work front-desk etc. As city after city shutters down, all in-person businesses are being affected – and on the frontlines of those affected are the wage-workers. If the latest unemployment report in the US is any indication, this crisis will be a global financial catastrophe, sure – but even more, a fatal blow to the livelihoods of millions of workers.

For the others, the affluent and leisured class, who are the first ones to have panicked, overwhelming the online shopping portals and hoarding essentials – for whom “social distancing” and “work for home” are basically carte blanche for general vacationing, it makes no big difference.

They have anyway already “socially distanced” themselves for a while now – in their high-end “societies,” their gated complexes, their malls – and by having their kids in air-conditioned schools. For them such occasions as “janta curfew” make no real difference to their lives – as long as the curfew does not affect the services of their security guards, their domestic help, their dog-walkers, their car-washers. They will never understand the pain of Kashmir.

For the rest of us, who do not fall in such brackets, we can allow this to serve as a reminder of what the Kashmiris have been going through for years now. The clampdowns. The jackboots. Sick family members and scarce medications. Low levels of essential rations. Midnight knocks. Quarantines called jails from which people never come back…

My friend from Kashmir in Delhi tries to allay my concerns about the current panic that seems to be consuming everyone: “Tumko aadat nahin hai na…hum Kashmiriyon ko to stock vagerah karne ki aadat hai, isliye hume itna asar nahin ho raha hai…” You are not used to this that is why (you seem anxious)…we Kashmiris are used to stocking up etc that is why this so-called panic has not gotten to us…”

Aviral Anand is a socially-concerned citizen, based in Delhi. He believes in solidarities with global struggles, such as the working class, indigenous and other marginalized peoples’ struggles around the world.




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