Concertina and Ostracism

Life inside a containment area is no different from the lockdown. It is the ostracization that makes it different, reports Farzana Nisar

This is the lane that leads to the locality where a few Covid-19 patients live in Kulgam. It is barricaded by the concertina wire. KL Image: Farzana Nisar

Every road leading to Reshipora mohalla in Kulgam is sealed with concertina wires and barricades to prevent all movements. Cops wearing masks, municipal workers spraying disinfectants are a common sight. The atmosphere becomes tense when, amid announcements urging people to stay indoors, health professionals dressed in full-body protection suits cross the barricades to trace the contacts of the Covid-19 positive patients.

At around 7:30 pm on April 8, the area was declared a red zone after first Covid-19 case was reported. It triggered panic among the residents. Screenshots of the official order went viral and frantic phone calls followed.

“I got almost 20 calls from friends and relatives, with everyone asking about the patient and our proximity with his house,” said Mubarak Ahmad, a resident.

Four days later, Bisma and Zainab, two sisters clean every corner of their three-storey house. Amid the intensifying pandemic, these sisters are keeping busy by rearranging household items and deep cleaning it from top to bottom.

Ramadhan is approaching and while we are locked down in a red zone, it is an opportunity to welcome the pious month with a clean home,” one of the sisters said. “We wash the matting, dust the walls, clean the floors and then organize our wardrobe. We do one room a day as it helps us to deviate from the scare surrounding this deadly disease.”

Although the administration has assured it would take care of supplying essential commodities, people face the shortage.

“These days we were not able to buy the essentials like milk and roti. Our milkman has to come from a different village, he might be scared to enter a red zone or perhaps he may not be allowed in. Bakers also prefer not to bake bread, as Kandirwans attract crowds,” said Mubarak, while sipping tea without milk from his cup.

Streets continue to be deserted in Kulgam, a locality of which was declared a red zone after detection of Covid-19 cases. KL Image: Farzana Nisar

What worries residents is not their red-zoning, but the reaction of few in these difficult times. Inhabitants of a nearby village, Chambagund restricted the entry of people from the town into their locality, fearing that they might also contract the virus.

“I have a year old grand-son at my home, so I went to the village to get milk for him but on the way, I was stopped by the village head, who asked me to return as they don’t want anyone from the red-zone to enter the village,” said Nisar Ahmad, a resident of Kulgam town. “It is quite obvious to care for one’s safety but they didn’t think for a moment that it is this main town, where they have to come for their daily works after situation gets normal.”

Not everybody can work from home during this mass-quarantine period. In rural areas, people mostly depend on farming; working from home is not an option. In Baghbal Kulgam, another red zone, Mohammad Shafi, an orchardist sits on the porch of his house and dials the numbers of different pesticide dealers in his area. As pink buds have appeared on the trees, Shafi is concerned about season’s first spray.

“I have been trying to call all the dealers I know, but they are unwilling to open their shops owing to the strict restrictions,” Shafi said. “We earn our livelihood from these orchards, the government should know these chemicals are  essentials.”

A major crisis for these belts is the labour shortage. “Even people from adjoining areas do not agree at working in a place that has a Covid-19 positive patient. But how can they, it is the matter of their lives after all,” Shafi added.

Window talking among Kashmiri women is nothing new, and the sealing of the villages has given them a reason for endless gossip. A short distance from Shafi’s house, two women in their 50s, Rafiqa and Fatima, talk to each other from their windows. From the vegetables both have grown in their kitchen gardens to the recent gun-battle that took place in their area, they discuss it all.

“We cannot go to each other’s home and talk, so these windows are our new meeting points. Agar ne kath ti karew, pagalay gasew (If we don’t even talk, we may turn mad),” said Rafiqa with a laugh.

Caught in an indefinite lock-down to prevent the escalation of the Covid-19 infection, a baby girl picking up the kitchen skill. KL Image: Farzana Nissar

Aamir Ahmad, 30, an avid news follower has stopped watching the news to reduce the pandemic triggered stress and anxiety. Instead, he has started to bring out the hidden talent in him. “Breaking the gender stereotypes, I have stepped in the kitchen to cook for my family. My family has started to love it,” he said. “I used to help my wife in the kitchen, but I learnt cooking years ago when I was a student at the university.”

Not everyone is unhappy about the new norms residents have to follow. Kids are finding themselves blessed by having every family member around. “Children have got a lot of people to play with, what else they want,” said Irfana, a mother.

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