Srinagar, Indian-administered Kashmir – Ghulam Mohammad Mir, an ambulance driver on the move, has not communicated with his wife and two children since Monday when the authorities imposed an unprecedented clampdown on the disputed region, shutting down internet and mobile phones, barring movement and bundling Kashmiri leaders into jails.
But that has not stopped the 42-year-old from carrying expecting mothers and attendants from villages and towns to Kashmir’s major Lal Ded maternity hospital in the main city of Srinagar.
“Except for Indian troops and their checkpoints, there’s nothing visible in the streets. I have been beaten up at several places for helping the patients since yesterday. What is my crime?” he asked.
Mir knows he hasn’t committed any crime but his ambulance is plying the streets of a new Kashmir, one that has just been stripped of its semi-autonomous character – including its constitution, flag, and hereditary rights – by the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government using rush decrees and parliament votes, igniting an old powder keg in South Asia.
“Our honour has been sacrificed. When I heard about the abrogation of the terms of accession I felt like I have lost a part of my body. Kashmir is not going to remain the same area.”
“Zulm, zulm, zulm [injustice, injustice, injustice],” repeated a fuming Ghulam Mohmmad Reshi, 73, a farmer in northern Tangmarg area, who also went through several military checkpoints to reach the hospital with his daughter who is in labour.
“While we seek curfew passes from authorities to travel on our own roads, Indians are celebrating our collective mourning by distributing sweets,” he said, referring to footage of elated Indians being aired in Kashmir on the only TV channel in the region, state-run Doordarshan.
Before India ended Kashmir’s special status and split it into two territories to be directly ruled by New Delhi, tens of thousands of Indian troops were deployed to curb a potential uprising, in addition to the half a million troops already stationed there. The lockdown, enforced overnight on Sunday, has seen all means of communication snapped and restrictions on movement imposed.
“This blackout is unprecedented. We’re forced to store videos and pictures in our pen drives, which are then carried to our newspapers and TV channels in Delhi physically by those flying out of the valley,” a senior journalist with a New Delhi-based news magazine, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Al Jazeera.
“Other journalists are begging for bandwidth in government offices and hospitals with emergency internet facility available.”
Although a few leading dailies managed to print their newspapers on Tuesday, most of the stories were wires or curated articles, as local press remains dysfunctional. The websites of leading newspapers show stories from August 4 and 5 when the internet blockade began.