Kashmiris living out of valley fear for safety after losing touch with families

Members of the Youth Forum for Kashmir, a civil society group, protest against India’s policy on Kashmir in Islamabad. (AP)
Updated 07 August 2019

Kashmiris living out of valley fear for safety after losing touch with families

  • Pakistan planning to approach UN Security Council, PM Khan tells Parliament

NEW DELHI: New Delhi-based journalist Haziq Qadri is desperate to contact his family in the Kashmir Valley.

The writer has not been in touch with his family in Srinagar since Sunday evening when the Indian government downed the valley’s communication networks, including all phone lines.

Qadri is worried for their safety and said: “There is no way to know how my family is feeling or what state of mind they are in.”

Kashmir Valley and the adjoining areas have been completely cut off from the rest of India by New Delhi in an attempt to contain any violent reaction to its scrapping of Article 370 of the Indian constitution that guarantees special autonomous status to the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

Many Kashmiris in India say they are living in fear following the controversial decision and one university professor described the Indian government as being “at war with the people of Kashmir right now.”

Qadri told Arab News that due to the way the situation was unfolding he was worried about his own security in Delhi.

“Last night I called many of my Kashmiri friends at home because they were not feeling secure. They were not sure what might happen to them with the kind of jubilations some Indians are expressing with the abrogation of Article 370.

“Some of my friends studying in different colleges in India told me that they have been bullied by some Indian students. They are so nervous they don’t want to talk to anyone.

“I have been living in Delhi for the last five years and have lived in other parts of the country, but I have never felt as lonely and depressed as I feel now,” said Qadri.

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan said his country was considering an approach to the UN Security Council. “We will fight it at every forum. We’re thinking how we can take it to International Court (of Justice) ... to the United Nations Security Council,” Khan told Pakistan’s Parliament.

We will fight it at every forum. We’re thinking how we can take it to International Court (of Justice) ... to the United Nations Security Council.

Imran Khan, Pakistan’s premier

Prof. Ghulam Mohamad Shah, of New Delhi-based Jamia Millia Islamia University (JMI), told Arab News: “I have never felt as helpless and angry as I have been since yesterday (Sunday). Never before has Kashmir faced this unprecedented situation in a normal time when you are not able to establish contact with family in the valley.

“This is an emergency-like situation. I have heard that the Kashmir administration has created six temporary jails on the pattern of Srinagar’s central jail to deal with the situation. Security forces are planning to arrest anyone who comes out to protest.

“What has happened in Kashmir is a constitutional coup by the central government. No due process was followed in revoking the special status that Kashmir enjoyed under the Indian constitution,” said Shah.

The professor, who comes from the city of Srinagar, said that by revoking Article 370 the Indian government had rendered mainstream political parties in the valley irrelevant and pushed even normal politicians “into the camps of militants.”

He added: “I feel very angry and agitated with the way the autonomous status of Kashmir has been taken away from us. It’s the saddest day of my life. A psychological barrier has been created between India and Kashmir with the political decision of (Prime Minister) Narendra Modi’s regime.”

Most Kashmiri students at JMI approached by Arab News were too afraid to speak.

“It’s a very different kind of situation for us. We have been advised not to venture out and to lie low. We are not able to contact our families so we cannot express our anxiety to them also,” said one student from Anantnag district.

Prof. S.A.R. Geelani of Delhi University said: “The Indian government is at war with the people of Kashmir right now. The whole valley has been turned into an open prison. I have been getting reports that army tanks are marching in south Kashmir.”

Geelani has been unable to speak to his wife and children in the valley for almost two days. “The whole episode reflects the very sad state of democracy in India. My Kashmiri fellows are very agitated. This will further alienate the masses in Kashmir. I think in time to come there could be lots of disturbance. The government has pushed the Kashmiris very hard this time thereby making the situation very volatile.” He noted that the celebrations of some Indians over the move was “disturbing.”

In the southern Indian city of Hyderabad, university students took to the streets on Monday evening in a small protest demanding the roll back of the government’s decision on Kashmir’s special status.

“I want to know what is happening in my state, but I am not able to speak to any member of my family in Kashmir. It’s unprecedented,” said Attaullah Niazi, a research scholar at the University of Hyderabad.

Hailing from the Poonch district of Jammu and Kashmir, Niazi added that “by revoking the special status the Indian government wants to change the demography of the Muslim-dominated state.

“Kashmiri students are living in fear and they are avoiding going out of the campus or their houses.”


China building a hospital to treat virus, expands lockdowns

Updated 24 January 2020

China building a hospital to treat virus, expands lockdowns

  • The SARS hospital was built from scratch in 2003 in just six days to treat an outbreak of a similar respiratory virus that had spread from China
  • Hospitals in Wuhan were grappling with a flood of patients and a lack of supplies

BEIJING: China is swiftly building a 1,000-bed hospital dedicated to patients infected with a new virus that has killed 26 people, sickened hundreds and prompted unprecedented lockdowns of cities during the country’s most important holiday.

On the eve of the Lunar New Year, transportation was shut down Friday in at least 10 cities with a total of about 33 million people. The cities are Wuhan, where the illness has been concentrated, and nine of its neighbors in central China’s Hubei province.

“To address the insufficiency of existing medical resources,” Wuhan authorities said in a Friday notice, the city is constructing a hospital modeled after the Xiaotangshan SARS hospital in Beijing. The facility will be a prefabricated structure on a 25,000- square-meter (270,000-square-foot) lot, slated for completion Feb. 3.

The SARS hospital was built from scratch in 2003 in just six days to treat an outbreak of a similar respiratory virus that had spread from China to more than a dozen countries and killed about 800 people. The hospital featured individual isolation units that looked like rows of tiny cabins.

Normally bustling streets, malls and other public spaces were eerily quiet in Wuhan on the second day of its lockdown.

Masks were mandatory in public, and images from the city showed empty shelves as people stocked up for what could be an extended isolation.

Train stations, the airport and subways were closed; police checked incoming vehicles but did not entirely close off roads.

Hospitals in Wuhan were grappling with a flood of patients and a lack of supplies. Videos circulating online showed throngs of frantic people in masks lined up for checks. Some users on Weibo said their family members had sought diagnoses but were turned away at hospitals that were at capacity.

At least eight hospitals in Wuhan issued public calls for donations of masks, googles, gowns and other protective medical gear, according to notices online.

Administrators at Wuhan University People’s Hospital set up a group chat on the popular WeChat messaging app to coordinate donations.

The “Fever Control Command Center” of the city of Huanggang also put out a call for donations publicized by the state-run People’s Daily, asking for medical supplies, medicine and disinfection equipment. The notice added that at the moment they wouldn’t accept supplies from foreign countries.

Authorities were taking precautions around the country. In the capital, Beijing, major public events were canceled indefinitely, including traditional temple fairs that are a staple of Lunar New Year celebrations. Two major tourist destinations, Beijing’s Forbidden City and Shanghai Disneyland, announced they will close indefinitely on Saturday.

The number of confirmed cases of the new coronavirus has risen to 830, the National Health Commission said. Twenty-six people have died, including the first two deaths outside Hubei and the youngest recorded victim.

The health commission in Hebei, a northern province bordering Beijing, said an 80-year-old man died there after returning from a two-month stay in Wuhan to see relatives. Heilongjiang province in the northeast confirmed a death there but did not give details.

While the majority of deaths have been older patients, a 36-year-old man in Hubei was admitted to the hospital earlier this month after suffering from fever for three days. He died following a sudden cardiac arrest on Jan. 23.

Initial symptoms of the virus can mirror those of the cold and flu, including cough, fever, chest tightening and shortness of breath, but can worsen to pneumonia.

The vast majority of cases have been in and around Wuhan, but people who visited or had personal connections to infected people were among the scattered cases counted beyond the mainland. South Korea and Japan both confirmed their second cases Friday and Singapore confirmed its third. Cases have been detected in Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan, the United States, Thailand and Vietnam.

Many countries are screening travelers from China and isolating anyone with symptoms.

The World Health Organization decided against declaring the outbreak a global emergency for now. The declaration can increase resources to fight a threat but its potential to cause economic damage makes the decision politically fraught.

Chinese officials have not said how long the shutdowns of the cities will last. While sweeping measures are typical of China’s Communist Party-led government, large-scale quarantines are rare around the world, even in deadly epidemics, because of concerns about infringing on people’s liberties.

The coronavirus family includes the common cold as well as viruses that cause more serious illnesses, such as SARS and Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome, or MERS, which is thought to have originated from camels.

The Wuhan outbreak is suspected to have begun from wild animals sold at a food market in the city. The market is closed for investigation.

Across China, a slew of cancelations and closures dampened the usual liveliness of Lunar New Year.

One Beijing subway station near a transport hub conducted temperature checks at its security checkpoint Friday. Some security personnel were clad in full-body hazardous material suits.

Schools prolonged their winter break and were ordered by the Ministry of Education to not hold any mass gatherings or exams. Transport departments will also be waiving fees and providing refunds for ticket cancelations.