In the midst of the global COVID-19 crisis, press coverage of the Kashmir crisis has waned, but not completely died out. For the most part, Kashmir seems to have been relegated by the press to subheadings within articles about India’s response to the Coronavirus. On March 24, Vox reported on India’s coronavirus lockdown; three quarters of the way through the article, Kashmir is mentioned. The article predicts that the territory will be “hit hard” by Coronavirus, with the added terror of no reliable access to the internet. While The Washington Post is now offering free online access to articles so that “all readers have access to … important information about the coronavirus,” Kashmiris lack news options, from any sources (The Washington Post). Their internet is extremely slow and often fails to play videos and download content. Alex Ward for Vox News reports that “Even if locals wanted to get vital information about the disease from trusted sources, work from home, or continue their education online, they couldn’t.” Buzzfeed reports that, although Kashmiri authorities have uploaded “advisories and videos on Twitter urging people to wash their hands and engage in social distancing … the restrictions on internet speed means that most Kashmiris can’t see these” (Dixit). Likewise, doctors in Kashmir cannot access training on how to treat COVID-19: a surgery professor tweeted that he was “trying to download the guidelines for intensive care management as proposed by docs in England.. 24 Mbs and one hour.. Still not able to do so…” (Ward).
Further, Kashmiris fear that India will not prioritize their health and wellbeing; other areas may be given more resources and aid, more expediently. Kashmiris have been marginalized and silenced as political tensions have grown (in response to India’s annexation of the region and subsequent internet shutdown), and India’s dehumanization of Kashmiris may be exacerbated by this new threat. Doctors fear that Kashmiris will be “slaughtered like cattle” if an outbreak takes hold (Al Jazeera). Already, the doctor-to-patient ratio in Kashmir is “one of the lowest in India,” with an average of one doctor for 3,866 people, compared to 1:2,000 in India and the World Health Organization’s recommendation of 1:1,000 (Al Jazeera). In a country already lacking the necessary health professionals in ordinary times, how will the country handle this deficit in a crisis? And how well can a marginalized region possibly fare in this already-struggling, now crisis-ridden country? The Caravan magazine reports that Indian hospitals are “ill-equipped” to deal with the virus, and private hospitals are turning people away who have COVID symptoms (Krishnan). The Chhattisgarh health minister expressed that he and his fellow health officials “are concerned whether [the] Government of India will provide us the adequate number of kits” for testing (Krishnan). Most states in India only have one testing location. If these “normal” Indian states are feeling the strain of limited testing and insufficient hospital resources, how will the Indian government treat a disenfranchised region rife with conflict?
As Kashmir faces an increase in COVID-related deaths, India has instituted new domicile law to redefine a permanent resident as anyone who has lived in Kashmir for 15 years. This change was announced on April 1 and immediately drew vehement criticism from Kashmiris who called it “a diabolical demographic project,” stating that “imposing it in times of a global pandemic reveals a callous & paranoid mindset wilfulling violating consent to ensure subjugation” (Ganai). Former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah remarked on the “suspect timing” and tweeted that “the law offers none of the protections that had been promised” (Ganai). In this globally fraught time, many countries have entered a state of exception, with governments enforcing stay-at-home orders and seizing the means of production for medical necessities. In the frenzy, there seems to be a public attitude towards the government of “do what you need to do to make this crisis shrink.” With that mentality, government rights expand and individual rights diminish, with people focused on the next step to quashing the pandemic, so that they can return to their regular lives as quickly and as safely as possible.
I was struck by this April 2 comment on a Global Voices article about Kashmir under lockdown:
While whole world is busy in fighting coronavirus, India found an opportunity to further crush and oppress Kashmiris by imposing new orders of domicile in Kashmir. Mr.Modi and Mr.Shah want to avoid the world action in between the coronavirus crisis and snatch Kashmir from Kashmiris. UN and all world countries and organizations must take notice of this and ask for freedom rights of Kashmiris.”
Where is the line for what governments can “get away with” in this time of pandemic, and how can the world respond? How do we as global citizens prioritize and honor both the immediate needs of the world and the individual rights of an oppressed people?
Dixit, Pranav. “Eight Million People Can’t Get News About The Coronavirus Because Their Government Is Slowing Down The Internet.” BuzzFeed News, BuzzFeed, 19 Mar. 2020, www.buzzfeednews.com/article/pranavdixit/coronavirus-india-kashmir-internet.
Ganai, Naseer. “Domicile Law Triggers More Worries In Jammu And Kashmir Amid Coronavirus Crisis.” Https://Www.outlookindia.com/, Outlook, 1 Apr. 2020, www.outlookindia.com/website/story/india-news-domicile-law-triggers-more-worries-in-jammu-and-kashmir-amid-coronavirus-crisis/349946.
Krishnan, Vidya. “Lack of Testing Kits, Understaffed Hospitals: COVID Exposes India’s Crumbling Healthcare System.” The Caravan, 16 Mar. 2020, caravanmagazine.in/health/lack-testing-kits-understaffed-hospitals-covid-exposes-india-crumbling-healthcare-system.
Wagner, John, et al. “Live Updates: New York Hopeful It May Be ‘Flattening the Curve’ of Coronavirus Pandemic; Boris Johnson Remains in ICU.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 7 Apr. 2020, www.washingtonpost.com/world/2020/04/07/coronavirus-latest-news/.
Ward, Alex. “India’s Coronavirus Lockdown and Its Looming Crisis, Explained.” Vox, Vox Media, 24 Mar. 2020, www.vox.com/2020/3/24/21190868/coronavirus-india-modi-lockdown-kashmir.
“’We’ll Die like Cattle’: Kashmiris Fear Coronavirus Outbreak.” News: Kashmir, Al Jazeera, 23 Mar. 2020, www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/03/die-cattle-kashmiris-fear-coronavirus-outbreak-200322151405218.html.