I left my family in Kashmir 24 days ago and I still have no idea whether they’re dead or alive

Before the blockade, my mother would call me every day just to ask me if I had breakfast in the morning. Now, as I write this piece from New Delhi, I have no information at all

Shoaib Shafi
Monday 13 January 2020 11:10 GMT
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Every year a season of pain and suffering arrives in the valley of Kashmir as people mourn and lament loved ones who remain at the mercy of Indian armed forces.

The present crisis in Kashmir started with a rumour. It was whispered that the constitutional clause of the Indian constitution that gave Kashmir a degree of autonomy and a special status would be overturned. And that was swiftly followed by the deployment of 38,000 additional troops to Kashmir (one of the world’s most militarised zones).

All the political leaders, including pro-Indian politicians, who held Kashmir for India since 1953 were arrested. The government began to issue a continuing advisory to tourists and Hindu pilgrims to vacate Kashmir as soon as possible. It heightened the paroxysm of fear and anxiety among the local population who were unaware of their fate.

I was home on vacation in Kashmir from university to spend time with family and friends, but the psychological trauma I suffered and witnessed around me during those two weeks drove me back to New Delhi. When I look back at that period, it almost resembles a death in the family. There was silence with a doleful expression on the faces of the people I met. It felt like the strength had been zapped out of everyone, so much so that they couldn’t speak. But their throbbing hearts and gloomy eyes said it all: something was about to happen which would alter the course of their lives.

On the midnight of 4 August, just a day before the government of India unilaterally scrapped Kashmir’s autonomy, the valley of Kashmir was cut off from the rest of the world. All the phone lines, internet and local cable television networks went dead. And all of it was secretly executed by government agencies.

A day after, the people of Kashmir woke up with bellowing voices coming from the loudspeakers installed on the vehicles of the Indian forces. “Indefinite curfew has been imposed in the area. You are ordered not to come out of your homes until further orders”.

The curfew was imposed because the Indian parliament was to hollow out article 370 and article 35A of the Indian constitution by passing the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019 and the authorities feared retaliation from the people in the form of protests. Article 370 was the last, although fragile, reminder of Kashmir’s accession to India in 1947, while article 35A barred people from outside Kashmir from buying any land, holding any government job or becoming permanent residents of Kashmir. It also gave people of Kashmir a sense of security that their unique culture and distinct demography would be not be diluted by the outside forces.

With the curfew in place, millions of people in Kashmir suddenly had no information about their family and friends. The shops and educational institutions remain closed and government offices shut. There was no other way to see India’s move as yet another betrayal.

The government of India, as well as the Indian media, feigns the portrait of Kashmir as “coming back to normalcy” and they lie when they say people of Kashmir are happy with this “development”. On the contrary, there is a wave of anger and resentment among people, and day after day it is swelling up inside them.

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I spoke with one local businessman I met at the airport who told me: “I feel like I have lost something important in my life.

“I am afraid of the future of our children. I have lived my 50 years in suffering and torture here but I don’t want my children to taste the same fate. It seems like it is a sort of collective punishment we are all serving here.”

“India’s Narendra Modi is a very [unpredictable] person,” said another fellow passenger I spoke with.

“When he is at the United Nations or G7 meetings, he says that Kashmir is a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan. When he is at home, he calls it India’s internal matter. Tell me how do you expect such a person sensible enough to solve international disputes?”

As I write this piece from New Delhi, like all my fellow Kashmiris living outside Kashmir, I have no information about my family or friends. Before the blockade, my mother would call me every day just to ask me if I had breakfast in the morning and we’d speak for lengthy periods about the things happening back at home. Then my nephew and niece would take over and excitedly read me a list of books they wanted me to get for them next time I came back. But as of now, it is the 24th day of the communication blackout and I have not spoken with them since I landed in New Delhi. Whether they are dead or alive, I know not.

The writer's name has been changed to protect their identity.

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