coronavirus kashmir

Reasons may be different but for Kashmiris lockdown ,due to COVID 19, is nothing  new.  During past thirty years people in this part have experienced many occasions when they had to sit inside and not venture out . On some occasions parties seeking separation from mainland India have been giving calls for general strike across the state and on other times government forces ensured curfews forcing the inmates not to move out. As the present lockdown was announced Kashmiris laughed saying ‘now whole world has turned into Kashmir. What we have been witnessing for a longer period is to be tasted by the people across the globe.’

In recent decade Kashmir witnessed lockdowns on many occasions sometimes in a row. In 2008 Amarnath agitation, 2009 Asiya Neelofar tragedy, 2010 Machil fake encounter, 2014 deluge, 2016 Burhan Wani killing, 2017 and 2018 strikes against apprehension of article 370 abrogation. In 2019 when the article 370 of Indian constitution ,which gave special status to the state of J&K, was abrogated the government went for a clampdown which lasted around six months with partial lifting as the times went by. During this period telephone, mobile and even OP Ed pages of the local newspapers became the target. People had to sit inside for almost  two months till the restrictions were eased gradually. Even today internet runs at a very low speed allowing 2G functioning only.

Before the partition of the Indian sub continent road structure was scarce and fair weather road popularly known as Banihal cart road and Srinagar Rawalpindi  road were used. However , this luxury was confined to Banihal cart road only after 1947. Since movement during winter months was not possible on this road people in Kashmir were used to store food grains and even dry vegetables to be consumed during winter months. Hokh Suen (dried vegetables) continues to be consumed very fondly even nowadays. Since less warmer climate of Kashmir does not pose danger to  eatables of perishing  and a tradition of storing for longer periods lockdowns do not bother people in Kashmir.

In the times of present epidemic people in Kashmir observe almost full lockdown and very few people can been seen outside presumably under trying circumstances like buying medicines or rations. This too is done through lanes and by- lanes to save themselves from the wrath of security men roaming on major roads. In a way people here are adept in saving themselves as they have experienced during government enforced strict curfews.  People had got a whiff of ensuing lockdown and had stored eatables like rice, flour, lintels ,dried vegetables , spices , tea, coffee ,salt and sugar etc.

One important thing which is relished here is the Noon Chaie (salt tea). This is mostly taken accompanied by local baker’s bread  namely Girda, Tchoch wor(bagel), Kulcha , Baqar Khani etc. These items are prepared with the help of deep earthen oven and professional bakers have the expertise. But due to lockdown the local bakers have mostly shut their shops Sot(roasted corn flour) is mixed with hot tea .It is micro grinded roasted  corn , rice or wheat grains . Presumably Kashmiris can live without food for few days but Noon Chaie is something which can’t be ignored. Haakh (green leafy vegetable) is another thing which is consumed and relished by locals here. An interesting quote about it is that Kashmiris like and live on Haakha Bata ( Green leafy vegetable and rice). Most of Kashmiris grow Haakh in their kitchen gardens, however small these may be, and for other items they  depend on the markets.

Despite the fact that low speed internet (2G) is operational educational activities are being conducted by some of the teachers. Mushtaq Barq an English language teacher is using BlueJeans software to connect around sixty students at a time and impart necessary lessons to them. This method has worked upon over the years as lot of time was wasted due to frequent lockdowns and curfews. Jehangir  the Mathematics teacher has formed a Whatsup group and teaches his students so that they  do not suffer. During last year’s lockdown students could not attend schools for about four months in a row and teachers evolved a method of CD/PEN drive system to conduct and distribute lectures. This  exercise was taken up as no internet facility was allowed by the government then. Use of technology during COVID 19 lockdown is being taken benefit of by some groups of writers in Kashmir. While online short story sessions are being conducted to nourish the appetite Face Book has come handy for them. A literary organization Fiction Writers Guild which conducts weekly meetings and the writers read and analyze various literary pieces but such activities have been blocked now. They also resumed functioning through online sessions . “ This quenches the thirst to some extent” says the Guild president Dr. Nazir Mushtaq.

Fighting COVID 19 lockdown in their own way mixing traditional methods and technology is specific to Kashmir. And they always say ‘we know how to defeat restrictions nowadays called as Lockdown.’

Shafi Ahmad is a Kashmir based columnist and regularly writes for English and Urdu newspapers/magazines.

He can be emailed at wanishafi999@gmail .com)




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