As the rest of the globe scrambles to deal with social, political and economic implications of lock-down due to the corona-virus pandemic, Jammu and Kashmir reels under another lock-down that poses a significant threat to its political and economic developments. The already violent fatigued society is once again facing frustrations this time due to COVID-19. In these dark times, Hundreds of Kashmiri families fear for the safety of their relatives who have been lodged in several prisons in New Delhi. Further, the slowdown of the internet, mass imprisonment, public health crises, unemployment and the downturn in economic growth created political and economic dislocation in the valley. Up to November 22, there have been 105,984 confirmed corona-virus cases recorded in Jammu and Kashmir.
The Covid-19 lock-down in the disputed region was a conspiracy of the central government of India to extend further the months-long restrictions of the said lock-down of August 2019 – while the Narendra Modi government abrogated Article 370 and 35 A of the Indian constitution that nullified the autonomous status of the Indian held Jammu and Kashmir (J&K).
The already jeopardised region due to the August lock-down is now hit hard by the outbreak of corona-virus that caused another spell of excruciation in the valley. Amidst these crises, lock-down in the area vehemently affected communications services. The doctors, along with health care workers, researchers and students have raised several concerns regarding the slow speed internet. Iqbal Saleem, a professor of surgery at Government Medical College, Srinagar tweeted that it is so frustrating to download 24 MB intensive care management guidelines in an hour because of the slow accessibility of the internet in the area. Even, Kashmiri doctors have been threatened with strict actions by the state authorities not to reveal something about the clampdown of communications for media leaks.
Further, the slow-speed 2G internet also shut the doors to online education that pushed students into a troublesome situation. No state on earth has had the most prolonged internet restrictions more than Jammu and Kashmir. Only in 2019, the disputed territory experienced 55 blackouts of internet, including the 213 days longest lock-down in recorded history.
Additionally, numerous Kashmiris have been imprisoned by the state security forces. Khurram Pervez, a Kashmiri-based human rights activist, told Aljazeera approximately 300 Kashmiris had been seized in which most of the detainees are booked under the Public Safety Act (PSA). This law termed “lawless” by the Amnesty International human rights groups. Similarly, Balquees Shah, a doctor in Indian occupied Kashmir (IOK) told Aljazeera that she is enough worried about the situation inside the jail. There is no proper food, and no hygiene, she said.
Apart from the aforementioned political concerns, the economic landscape of the valley is highly battered, too. Due to the Covid-19 lock-down, the already lethargic economy of the disputed territory ( as in the wake of revocation of Article 370, the economic loss of Kashmir has resulted in more than $1.4 billion ) is suffering an estimated loss of 270 crore in a single day. In addition to this, according to the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI), businesses in the area had suffered a loss of 18,000 crore due to clampdown following the erasure of Article 370.
Furthermore, the tourism sector also faces an unprecedented slump amid these terrible situations. The tourism sector, one of the core elements in Kashmir’s economy, contributed more than 5 per cent of the GDP of Jammu and Kashmir, is now in large scale loss since August 5, 2019.
Additionally, the agriculture sector is also in decline where horticulture, floriculture and orchard have massively been affected due to this nascent virus. Strawberries and cherry that added a small component to the horticulture production in the valley are spoilable. The valley produces approximately 13,000 to 15,000 tonnes of strawberries and cherries worth Rs 150 crore per year. But unfortunately, due to Covid-19, the buying capacity of people for Cherry and strawberries has been dropped off, which led to a massive reduction in prices. 2 kg strawberry that sold last year at the cost of 400 – 450 is now selling it for just 200 – 250, which seems a sluggish growth in the economy of agriculture sectors.
Some basal elements behind this downswing in the economy could be as a result of unemployment, worse growth of the agricultural sector, recession in the tourism sector and incommunicado – as people cannot get access to their online businesses during this double lockdown in J&K.
To ease the situations for the better livelihood of Kashmiris, some multiple pre-requisites need to be addressed by the central government. First, Detainees that have been seized by the government unlawfully under the PSA need to be released in time or shifted to Kashmir on humanitarian grounds. Second, the dysfunctional 2G internet should be improved so that doctors can download the latest medical guidelines and advice of the WHO. Further, high-speed internet is therefore essential, because this is the only way through which students, researchers and people in business can access their online works such as online classes, important webinars and online businesses. Third, a smart-lockdown with the implementation of Standard Operation Procedures (SOPs) is needed to overcome the economic stagnation in the area rather than a full one.
The devastating impact of Covid-19 has shown that all the homosapiens across the world can not tolerate a strict lock-down. So, what impact this pandemic would have on Kashmiris as they are under a twin lock-down?
Graduate in the field of Defense and Strategic Studies, Quaid-I- Azam University, Islamabad. He is also working as a Communications Assistant and researcher at the Centre for Strategic and Contemporary Research (CSCR).