Coronavirus hitting education, business even harder in Kashmir
A woman, who had returned from Saudi Arabia, was tested positive for the COVID 19 in Kashmir on Wednesday. The authorities are taking every possible measure to contain the spread of the virus, putting in place stringent restrictions.
Although only one positive coronavirus case has been reported in Kashmir thus far, the authorities are taking every possible measure to contain the spread of the novel virus across the Valley. The COVID 19, however, is hitting the local populace hard as the Valley was already caught in the throes of a crisis, and facing a host of issues.
The local administration has put stringent restrictions in place in Srinagar and halted inter-district links after a woman, who had returned from Saudi Arabia, was tested positive for the COVID 19 on Wednesday. Two key sectors - education and business - are bearing the brunt of the virus.
Educational institutes, which reopened in the last week of February after a gap of seven months, have been again shut as the number of corona-infected people ballooned in various states of the country.
Last year, schools, colleges and universities remained open for barely five months due to the protracted lockdown following the abrogation of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir on August 5.
Frequent strikes began afflicting the education sector since armed rebellion broke out in Kashmir in 1990. However, the culture of long-drawn-out lockouts emerged in 2008 when protesters spilt out on to the streets against the transfer of large swathes of land to the Shri Amaranth Shrine Board. The entire Valley remained shut for more than three months. In 2009 and 2010, the Valley also witnessed protracted strikes.
Similarly in 2016, after the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen militant commander Burhan Wani, who re-animated militancy in Kashmir, the Valley reeled under a nearly six-month-long shutdown. While all these extended lockdowns direly affected academic activity, this year both teachers and parents were looking forward to a smoother academic year. However, now again educational institutes have had to suspend classes due to the virus.
"We acknowledge that this time it was absolutely imperative to shut the schools, but somehow the schooling should have continued ", says G.A. Var, president of the Private Schools Association, Jammu and Kashmir. “During such troubled times, one can easily reach out to students and deliver lectures or assignments via the internet, but unfortunately here we have low speed and lousy data services.”
The Valley has been bearing the brunt of a low-intensity armed conflict for the past 30 years, and yet the government has never ever seriously considered the idea of alternate schooling.
It may be pertinent here to recall the Safe School Declaration opened for endorsement in Oslo in May 2015, which sought the commitment of the states to protect students, teachers and educational institutes in times of armed conflict. It also emphasized the importance of uninterrupted education.
Although the declaration was endorsed by 102 states, the rival neighbours - India and Pakistan - steered clear of it. "It is an irony that states like India and Pakistan did not endorse the declaration. In both the countries armed conflict has taken a heavy toll on education", said Javed Ahamd, who has majored in Peace and Conflict from a local university.
Javed added that the schools in Kashmir had always been occupied by security forces, not only making the learning process tougher but also putting the lives of students at risk. “Many of the schools and technical institutes were occupied by the security forces soon after the government put paid to the special status of Jammu and Kashmir on August 5 last year", he added.
The COVID 19 has also unsettled the business community in Kashmir which was already grappling with the financial troubles. Following the August 5 lockdown, the business community had suffered huge losses. While the unprecedented internet shut down had spurred many IT companies to fold up their operations here, shopkeepers, hoteliers, transporters went through a very sticky patch.
According to the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the economy of the Valley suffered a loss of Rs. 17,878.18 crores between August 15 and December 3 last year. The business community was hoping that its prospects would revive this year, but the virus has come as a double whammy after the August 5 move.
"Everything is closed here; the roads are sealed with barbed wires; there are no tourists around", said Nazir Ahmad, a local businessman. Ahmad, however, was of the opinion that this time around the lockdown made sense. "Who do we blame this time? All the measures being taken by the authorities are for our safety", he added.
Asif Iqbal Burza, president of Pahalgam Hoteliers and Restaurant Owners' Association told Asiaville that businesses were hardest hit due to the crisis sparked off by the coronavirus. "This time, trade across the globe has taken a hit. But here we have been suffering since last year and the compounded losses are huge", Burza said. He, however, added that the priority now is to stay safe.
A total number of 3330 persons in Jammu and Kashmir have been put under observation thus far. While 2465 have been kept under home quarantine, 44 persons are being quarantined in different hospitals. Additionally, 416 persons are under home surveillance. Three positive coronavirus cases have been reported in Jammu.