As Kashmir completes its second year of lockdown, the people most affected have been its daily wage workers, who have endured immense mental and financial stress.
What started off as rumours became the worst possible trauma that the people of Kashmir could have faced on August 5, 2019, when their semi-autonomous status was stripped with the abrogation of Article 370 and Article 35A from the Indian Constitution.
Days before, when an order for 30,000 additional Indian troops was released to the public, there was fear that something major was about to happen. People rushed to stores to gather resources with the expectation that a period of turmoil, which Kashmiris are well accustomed to, could last for a long time.
Shortly after, the Annual Amarnath Yatra was cancelled on the pretext of security. During the entire time the government of Jammu and Kashmir claimed that “everything is normal”. But rumours started to swirl that Article 370 was in danger.
Major news then broke out that over 180,000 security personnel were deployed, and there would be a complete communications gag with satellite communication available only to the authorities.
The internet went out on August 5, around 12:30am and within a span of three hours Kashmir was turned into an open prison. Television and local cable networks were stopped, local newspapers were made to stop publishing, and an information vacuum was created.
The next morning, people dusted off their radio devices and listened to how their rights were being stripped from them. Article 370 was taken down and the State of Jammu and Kashmir was divided into two Union Territories: Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh.
Kashmir remained under communication clampdown for almost six months, with restrictions continuing after that.
Huge economic losses were suffered, children were deprived of education and common people were devoid of basic rights.
As Kashmir completes its second year of lockdown, the people most affected have been daily wage workers, who eat food only when they earn every day.
The Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) stated economic losses amounted to almost $2.5 billion for 2019, and the number staggered to almost $5.1 billion in 2020. The estimates for 2021 stand at almost $7.2 billion.
According to KCCI, total job losses were nearly half a million at 496,000, of which Kashmir’s tourism and handicrafts sector suffered 144,500 cuts.
The situation hasn’t improved in 2020 and 2021 due to consecutive lockdowns because of the Covid-19 pandemic. KCCI President Sheikh Ashiq told TRT World: “The majority of workers who have lost their jobs and businesses in the last two years are in debt that will take six to seven years to cover”.
Meanwhile, a survey done by MSF India showed that nearly 1.8 million adults (45 percent of the adult population) in the Kashmir Valley are experiencing symptoms of mental distress.
Daily wage earners practically lost their one source of income due to the siege. Street venders, cobblers, drivers - how did they manage to survive?
Some of them spent their savings, some took loans, others survived on the help that came their way.
Under immense mental and financial stress, these people have been neglected and their stories have not been told.