In Oxygen-Deplete Delhi, Kashmiris Stay Behind Forgotten Doors

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by Tarushi Aswani

NEW DELHI: The second wave of Covid19 has officially arrived in India. For the fourth consecutive day, Delhi recorded 311 deaths, over 20,000 fresh cases, and a positivity rate below 30% as of May 5, 2021.

Pictures of outbound passengers violating Covid-19 SOPs at Srinagar Airport. Credits: Twitter

Nationwide, citizens have been stranded to fetch and fend medical healthcare equipment and facilities at their own risk. With Delhi reporting deaths of Covid19 patients due to shortage of oxygen and dead bodies mounting at crematoriums and graveyards, the capital has been on the verge of a collapse for weeks now.

While there are not enough resources to cater for Delhi residents, who themselves have been sending SOS messages on social media platforms to arrange for plasma donors, vials of Remdesivir, oxygen cylinders and vacant hospital beds; how does the city cater to those ‘outsiders’ who call Delhi their second home?

New Delhi, being the national capital is also an attraction to many students, young professionals, and textile traders from Jammu and Kashmir who wish to carve a niche for themselves in the city. While many Kashmiris chose to return home in the wake of the pandemic that has set the capital ablaze, many ‘brave’ chose to stay back.

A student from Kulgam, Adil Dar, did not want to return to Kashmir fearing the pandemic. “The shortage of medicines, ventilators and oxygen cylinders and the thought of getting positive for Covid in such a situation sent shockwaves through my spine,” Adil said. In such circumstances, to his fear, Adil’s health began to deteriorate. He was left with no choice but to fly back home. For him, he said, it was very difficult to survive in Delhi under such circumstances, where the outside world was full of ambulances relaying to and fro with sirens blazing throughout the city.

Students wearing face masks walk with their belongings after completing 14-days of quarantine at a hotel Pine Spring during government-imposed nationwide lockdown as a preventive measure against the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus in Srinagar on April 3, 2020. KL Image : Bilal Bahadur

Adil also shares how the lockdowns that keep extending week after week has added to his misery. “Being outsiders in Delhi and living in a rented place was also a challenge for us,” Adil said. “It was getting difficult for us to acquire even basic supplies. We returned empty-handed from the market several times.” He even said they faced a shortage of drinking water as the local water can distributor would not come regularly.

Another student preparing for competitive exams, Owais Bashir, who tested positive for coronavirus while in Delhi says that, “I didn’t fly home because I didn’t want to put my family at the risk of getting infected with the virus.” He also adds how catching the virus itself is a stress in itself and while it did get him thinking to return to Kashmir, he decided to stay back in Delhi and follow every recommended measure to cure himself.

Adnan Bhat, another student in Delhi from Anantnag decided to go back home in the midst of the heightening hysteria that engulfed Delhi. Adnan, who got back home on April 23, was deeply wary of what was about to go down in Delhi. He and his flatmates just wanted to head home despite knowing that the healthcare system in Kashmir is nowhere near as good as Delhi.

“Most Kashmiris do not have a support system outside Kashmir and it would have been difficult to survive the lockdown,” Adnan said. “The worst part was the realization that if we got Covid, there would be no one to take care of us.”

Dir Tourism receives travellers at Srinagar Airport

While Kashmiri students and professionals who live in Delhi understand that they will always be referred to as the ‘outsiders’, it is no less than an unspoken truth that Kashmiri professionals are aware that their mere identity is stigmatized all over India. A student who prefers to remain anonymous said, “Generally people bank of their neighbours but with the perception that exists about Kashmiris, people would think ten times even before talking to us, let alone helping us.”

Shreya (name changed), a student from Jammu and Kashmir in Delhi had also faced similar setbacks as well. She says that it is a well-known fact that Kashmiris are already feared and looked down upon.

“The safest best for a Kashmiri is to stay indoors but then if the symptoms turn severe, there’s only so much that can be done,” Sheya said. “Lockdowns and curfews come fairly easy to Kashmiris, we know what and when to stock essential seeing that most of our lives we’ve only seen curfews.”

Health workers deployed at Srinagar airport to test the incoming travellers. KL Image: Special Arrangement

Shreya also feels that this phase has also brought in extreme mental agony. Additionally, she says one cannot stay away from being worried about their families since cases are rising rapidly in Jammu and Kashmir as well. With cases increasing manifold in the capital, Shreya’s health also began to deteriorate, as she realized the reality of having no one to take care of her, she left Delhi for home.

Tarushi Aswani

Since the Pulwama attack of February 2019, reports of Kashmiri students, traders being beaten across the country had begun to emerge. Since then, hostility towards Kashmiris has increased with them being denied homes on rent as well.

Another professional from Jammu who stayed back in Delhi, despite the successive lockdowns, Ruqaiya, was caught in a nightmarish situation when her sister caught Covid19. With weakening vitals, her sister held onto treating herself using a nebulizer. Ruqaiya calls the ongoing situation in Delhi ‘deplorable’. While Ruqaiya has relatives in Delhi, she believes that it is only the community kitchens and citizen-led initiatives that are helping those with no one to fall back on. “Being a Kashmiri in Delhi has never been easy however Covid has shown us that we are really on our own if we are outside Kashmir,” Ruqaiya said.

(Tarushi Aswani is a Delhi-based independent journalist and tweets @tarushi_aswani.)

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