Guardian Angels

Welfare organisations help Kashmiris navigate the COVID-19 lockdown

In May this year, the charitable trust SRO Kashmir claimed to have provided oxygen support to almost nine thousand people since the start of the pandemic. Courtesy SRO Kashmir
31 August, 2021

When the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic unsettled Kashmir, in April, and the government enforced a lockdown, Mushtaq Mir feared for his livelihood. Every day, he would step outside his home to dust his grounded handcart. Lal Chowk, the usually bustling city centre of Srinagar where he had a kiosk selling second-hand clothes, was mired in concertina wires and drop-gates, with dozens of gun-toting troops enforcing the desolation in the streets.

One night, some welfare workers appeared at his doorstep and left food packets. It uplifted the gloom of his family and helped them survive the crisis. Such help keeps coming every now and then. “If my godforsaken tribe is surviving today, the credit goes to these angels, who remain nameless and faceless,” he told me. “They’re holding the fort in Kashmir today by coming to our rescue.”

The lockdown this year was the third that Kashmir has faced in the last three years. The abrogation of Article 370, in August 2019, was accompanied by curbs on movement and a communication blackout that lasted almost a year. When all of India was plunged into a nationwide lockdown at the start of the pandemic, in March 2020, many people reached out to Kashmiris for advice on how to survive a lockdown. It was community support, such as that received by Mir, that made the paralysis caused by the COVID-19 lockdown seem a usual part of life.

Soon after the latest lockdown was imposed, Mohammad Afaaq Sayeed, a Srinagar-based businessman who started the Facebook page “Coronavirus Watch J&K,” received a frantic phone call around midnight. He had answered dozens of similar calls that night, he told me. “Please do something!” the caller said. “My mother’s oxygen level is falling.” Sayeed drove to the caller’s house, around ten kilometres away, to deliver an oxygen concentrator. Such timely responses from people like Sayeed have contributed to keeping Kashmir’s COVID-19 mortality rate lower than that of Jammu.