Kashmir entered the eighth day of a total communication lockdown on Tuesday, with thousands unable to access basic emergency services, run their businesses or reach out to their families. Worse, local authorities are unsure when the blackout will be lifted.
The move to seal all forms of communication —including landlines, mobile networks, broadband services and public transport —was touted as a pre-emptive measure to prevent violence following the scrapping of special status and reorganization of the erstwhile state.
“Restrictions are being eased out in a phased manner in the Valley and the situation in the Jammu division has been restored," the Union home ministry announced on Tuesday.
But more than a week on, residents are struggling to cope with a world without communication.
Srinagar’s Shri Maharaja Hari Singh (SMHS) hospital wore a deserted look over the last few days, despite the fact that all essential services are running—at least in theory. The ambulance service is barely being used and the inflow of patients is down to a trickle.
“Who can contact us? Even if someone needs an ambulance, how will they reach us? Yesterday (Friday), the parents of a girl who had hurt herself critically came walking all the way because there was no way to reach the hospital," said Dr. Shabbir Ahmad at SMHS hospital.
The hospital—the oldest government-run one in Srinagar —will run out of medical supplies in a week, nurses said. Pharmacists and other staff have not showed up at the hospital since 5 August and routine surgeries have been stopped.
“Our staff comes from different areas of Srinagar and some from Baramulla and Shopian. They can’t come because there is no public transport available anymore. Neither can they contact us. We have medicines to last us one week and after that we have to see what to do because we can’t contact our seller either," said Shamima Khan, a nurse.
Ambulance services in several hospitals are doubling up as public transport.
“Some of us have started going to the outskirts of Srinagar in the ambulance because the police don’t stop the ambulance for checking. We get dropped over there and then walk to wherever we need to," said Wasim Javed, who is waiting to leave for his home-town, Sopore.
Unlike Javed however, people coming to Srinagar from other areas have not been so lucky.
“I started walking from Baramulla at 4am and I have just managed to reach Pattan because I have to reach Srinagar. I can’t contact anyone in Srinagar to come and pick me up and all buses have stopped plying as well. There is nobody to give a lift also because there is a curfew," said Noor Ahmad who lives in Baramulla.
There is a frenzy when the lone ATM in a district or a locality gets a fresh supply of cash.
“One of us keeps watch and then we knock door-to-door when the ATM is open. It’s like demonetization again for us because the queues have hundreds of people and only a limited supply of cash. So we inform our close people by word of mouth when the money comes," said Mehmood Khan, a resident of Batamaloo, in Srinagar.
“Since we are not allowed to communicate in groups, we now knock door to door and pass on a message if we need to. But if there is an emergency with our families elsewhere, we will not know," said Mehboob Ali, who lives near Srinagar’s Nowhatta area.