This is a form of mental warfare: A Kashmiri student on the communication blackout

29 September 2019
Kevin Ilango
Kevin Ilango

On 5 August, the Narendra Modi-led government removed the special status accorded to Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 of the Constitution. The government downgraded the state into two union territories, Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh. It then enforced a communications blockade in the region, which is still ongoing. The government has since claimed that the situation on the ground is peaceful, and that people of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh have all welcomed the move. News reports from the region, however, contradict this claim.

In “State Subjects,” The Caravan is featuring a collection of voices from various parts of the erstwhile state. Hafsa Sayeed, a PhD student in Mumbai, discusses the impact of not being able to communicate with her family.

The events of 5 August 2019 unfolded as Agha Shahid Ali had prophesied in his poem, “The Country Without a Post Office.” As Kashmir reels under the oppressive magnitude of an information blackout, a massive clampdown shapes the new normal in our lives. The strings which connected Kashmir to its people outside have been splintered ruthlessly.

The first communication I had with my family, based in Kashmir, was eight days after 5 August. My younger brother called from a phone at a police station. With the utmost economy of words, he said, “We are fine, take care.” It took another twelve days for my parents to manage a phone call from a relative’s phone. Since then, the communication has been erratic. Time seems to have moved backwards and it reminds me of a line from a story my English teacher had once narrated—“By the time a letter was replied to and by the time it reached, the emotion had changed.” Such is the manner and pace of communication now. We are compelled to hold back.

The initial days were chaotic and unsettling. The trauma has not receded, but there has been a shift, a gradual “normalisation” of these changed realities, including not being able to connect with family on a regular basis. Despite the anguish we carry at personal levels, we have to live through this new normal.

Beyond the political framework, what has happened is a form of mental warfare. There is a split between two distinct realities—of home and of being outside it. By virtue of living outside Kashmir, we feel disjointed from home at one level, and intricately bound to it at another. We live through this split, and fluctuate between the “normalcy” of home and an acquired normalcy outside.

Hafsa Sayeed is pursuing her PhD in Bombay.

Keywords: Kashmir Article 370 State Subjects Jammu and Kashmir
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