Interview from Kashmir on the Spread of COVID-19

The never-ending conflict in Kashmir is a life defined by daily struggle and survival, which now includes the spread of COVID-19 throughout the pristine valley. While most Americans are self-isolating, Kashmiris know this better than anyone else. They are accustomed to living through long (almost unbearable) curfews and a life of isolation from the outside world--and at times, alienation from other Kashmiris within their own neighborhoods. Government-forced isolation is intentional, although this time, the spread of COVID-19 has created a new “normal” for Kashmiris as it has for the global community. 

The Spread of COVID-19 in Kashmir

This month, I reconnected with an old friend living in Indian-held Kashmir. The interviewer is unnamed for security reasons, and he shares his fears, frustrations, and endless fight for normalcy. In today’s world, this includes freedom from sickness and COVID-19. The interview was conducted over the phone to glean insight from life under complete curfew and lockdown in the time of COVID-19. 

What was your life like before COVID-19?

I had an active life. I would play cricket with friends. I was studying in college and wanted to be a computer scientist. Life was care-free and easy. I could never imagine that the virus would come to Kashmir. 

What does it mean to self-isolate?
Staying inside is normal for Kashmiris. I have grown up this way. But it seems that every year, there is a political or security crisis in the valley which forces us to hide inside our homes. Sometimes, we stay inside voluntarily and on other occasions, it is a government order.

Being forced to remain indoors for months at a time is the norm here.

COVID-19 cases is spreading in the Kashmir valley.

Tell me about the virus.

For all of us, the COVID-19 is a new threat. We have never seen anything like it.  

Last month, the first case was a woman returning from Saudi Arabia (to perform umrah, a religious rite) to Indian-held Kashmir. She likely caught the virus during her travel; she was an older woman and soon died. Other cases came from a missionary group called the Tablighi Jamaat. They refused to self-isolate and they soon spread the virus by meeting in large groups–many of the members had returned from travel to East Asia. In fact, most of the COVID-19 cases in Kashmir have come from those who have recently traveled.

The cases of those affected by the virus is rising. We do not know the exact number. The worst part is that we have no way of stopping this. Sadly, we have no functioning government here. Who is going to stop the spread of this deadly virus here?

Is there medical care for Kashmiris with the virus?

Yes, but it often comes too late. So many people are dying inside their homes because there is no medicine or doctors, except for an overcrowded hospital. Theirs is a silent death. An elderly man, who was with the Tablighi Jamaat on a mission in Asia, came back with the virus. He didn’t know it and then passed it onto to his two grandchildren, both under the age of 10. The children now have to fight the virus. The old man died. 

Last week, I had terrible stomach pain and needed medical attention. I couldn’t go to the hospital for help. The hospital is reserved for women in labor or COVID-19 cases. So I found a local clinic to give me an IV treatment and some medicine. I was lucky. These days, even the medical store is running low on medicine.

Do you mean there is no medical care for the sick?

Unless you have COVID-19, there is nothing the government is doing for the sick. I had a friend who called me to tell me about terrible back pain and he needed to see a doctor, but the Army stopped him. Anyone who steps outside his home is beaten. People are afraid of the security forces. So they stay inside and suffer for as long as they can. You tell me: Is this the way to treat the sick?

Kashmir under lockdown: Indian security forces restrict locals from leaving their homes.

What should your government be doing for Kashmiris?

There has to better control. There has to be testing. Right now, we don’t know who the next victim might be. In villages, the cases of COVID-19 are rising and people fear that the virus will spread quickly. Where is the local government? Where are the doctors and medical staff? What are they doing to stop this from spreading?

Staying home is the only solution right now. Although I believe more should be done to stop the virus from spreading. 

What’s next for you?

Going outside. We all want to walk the streets again and breathe without wearing a mask. We want to study and play. My mother wants to take long walks. My brother wants to work again. I just want to finish my studies and get on with life.

Hopefully, someday soon, we will have our wish.

To learn more about Kashmir, you can download my free Kashmir book.
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