Ever since the emergence of COVID-19, countries are taking various initiatives to tackle the political, economic and social implications of the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns. However, in the Indian-occupied Kashmir (IOK), the pandemic has further exacerbated the miseries of the local populace politically, economically and socially.
On March 9, the Jammu and Kashmir Government confirmed its first COVID-19 case when a 63-year-old woman, who had a travel history to Iran, was diagnosed with the virus. As of September 17, the total confirmed cases in the disputed territory have reached near 19,500 with about 1,000 deaths. With many COVID-19 fatalities still unreported in the valley, doctors claimed that the official figures about deaths by COVID-19 are more than what was being confirmed.
The administration has tried to cope with the pandemic, but did not ramp up efforts for healthcare facilities in the disputed region. According to an estimate, there exist 97 ventilators along with 85 ICU beds for nearly seven million population. The absence of transport facilities in the region discommodes pregnant women to travel long distances on foot to reach health care facilities. Furthermore, doctors have raised several concerns regarding the shortage of medical supplies e.g. personal protective equipment. Moreover, doctors along with other health care workers were physically assaulted and tortured by the police. Even, they were continuously stopped at barricade after barricade for their identification, delaying their arrivals at hospitals to treat the Covid-19 affected patients on time.
With many COVID-19 fatalities still unreported in the valley, doctors claimed that the official figures about deaths by COVID-19 are more than what was being confirmed.
In political domain, locals have been denied platforms to voice their grievances on. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, hundreds of Kashmiri families fear for the safety of their relatives who have been held in several prisons located in mainland India. The fears are rooted in the apprehensions over the spread of the virus in jails which are mostly unhygienic and overcrowded. Similarly, detainees inside prisons in Kashmir have doubled in number, having cramped facilities in terms of medicine, food and clean drinking water due to which COVID-19 positive cases show an upsurge in the area. Amidst the pandemic, India introduced Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation (Adaptation of Central Laws) Order, 2020 to alter the demographic landscape of the disputed territory by broadening the scope of Jammu and Kashmir domicile provision to non-indigenous populations.
Socially, the restrictions which were imposed following the revocation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status in August last year, and the current reinforcement of these restrictions due to COVID-19 pandemic have seriously impacted the mental health of local people. In this regard, there is an increased tendency of depression, anxiety and psychotic events. Moreover, there is a significant uptick in the frequency of domestic abuse and suicides. When restrictions in the IOK were being eased out, the outbreak of COVID-19 in the disputed territory allowed the Indian authorities to once again reinforce restrictions that were placed in August 2019 as a response to pandemic.
The slow internet speed in the Valley has severely impacted communication facilities in the region. Consequently, doctors have been unable to access timely research on COVID-19 and effective response mechanism, students face problems in acquiring education through online platforms and people are prevented from selling products or services through e-commerce platforms.
When restrictions in the IOK were being eased out, the outbreak of COVID-19 in the disputed territory allowed the Indian authorities to once again reinforce restrictions that were placed in August 2019 as a response to pandemic.
The lockdown imposed following the revocation of special status and the pandemic has virtual halted economic activities in the region. In the past one year, the Kashmiri economy has suffered losses of about $5.3 billion. Tourism sector, which is one of the main contributors to Kashmir’s economy, is now inhuge losses. Similarly, agricultural sector has also suffered to a great extent during the pandemic. The products which have very limited perishable life like strawberries and cherry encountered less demand due to limited purchasing power of local people.
The COVID-19 pandemic provided the Indian government with an opportunity to win hearts and minds of local people. However, like previous humanitarian disasters, Indian government this time around also remained indifferent and aloof towards Kashmiris. If such approach persists, then the region will remain struggling with the deadly virus for long time and potentially become a hot-bed for the spread of the virus in mainland India.