Srinagar: Just when life had started getting back to normal in Jammu and Kashmir post-abrogation of Article 370, residents were hit by the Covid-19 lockdown.
People in the Valley have been used to shutdowns and restrictions ever since the eruption of militancy more than three decades back, but the lockdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic was something else.
The lockdown even prevented people from socializing with their neighbors and praying at the local mosques.
Stepping out in the by-lanes of the mohallas too became difficult. People then started avoiding each other and terms like social/ physical distancing, quarantine, and sanitization became part of everyday vocabulary. During the initial days of lockdown, masks and sanitizers disappeared from the shelves in marketplaces and people found violating the Covid SOPs came to be known as ‘Covidiots’.
When the pandemic first hit China towards the end of 2019, we never thought the virus would ever reach J&K. However, when a woman from Khanyar in the old city tested positive for the virus after her arrival from Saudi Arabia, there was panic all over. Lockdown then came into effect from March 19 bringing life to a standstill. Every place in the world turned into a ghost-town and even wild animals were found moving around on the roads instead of vehicles. Now, J&K has so far recorded over 1.2 lakh Covid positive cases but the deaths have remained below 1900.
Business, education sector worst hit
In the meantime, business activities were hit badly and the private sector too saw unprecedented financial and job losses. As per the estimates of a Valley-based traders’ body, successive lockdowns dented the Kashmir region’s economy by over Rs. 45,000 cr. Businesses had first remained shut for months after the abrogation of Article 370 on August 5 last year and just when economic activities had started picking up early this year, the Covid-19 lockdown started in March. The markets later opened on a rotational basis after 85 long days of the Covid-19 lockdown on June 13. However, lockdown in the Valley was back from July 13 and the markets later reopened from August 17. The education sector took a severe hit too and students by and large are yet to attend regular classes from August last year. Online classes have now become the order of the day and students do not know whether or not regular classes will resume from March next.
Hope of vaccine roll-out
Even as the Covid threat continues to loom over our lives, there is some hope that the Coronavirus would be conquered by 2021 end. And while the government is hopeful of starting vaccinating people against the Coronavirus in the coming weeks, several day-to-day activities have resumed. Markets have reopened fully, transport is back on the roads, and attendance at the religious places too has improved. Hospitals and essential services departments were run by the ‘Covid heroes’ even during the peak of the lockdown.
Political activities return with DDC
In J&K, district development council (DDC) polls – the largest electoral exercise after the abrogation of Article 370 – too were held successfully and saw decent participation of people. The exercise also saw a return of political activities in the union territory. Tourists too have started returning and stakeholders can look forward to a good season in the ensuing summer months. However, militancy related incidents continue to pose a threat to everyday life. In 2020, the security forces killed 225 militants and arrested 635 over-ground-workers (OGWs). Moreover, around 250 militants are ready to infiltrate from the launch-pads across the Line of Control.
Drug abuse, mental health issues go unnoticed
Another challenge that the government and the people at large face are growing drug abuse. The issue has not got the required attention amid the focus on Covid-19 and the security situation in J&K. As many as 1132 drug-related cases were registered and 1672 involved persons were arrested in 2020. Thirty drug peddlers were booked under the public safety act (PSA). Mental health issues like depression too have witnessed a sharp increase. These cases have also been witnessed among the children and this should worry us all. However, conquering the Coronavirus continues to remain the main challenge not just in J&K but the entire world.