‘Normalcy’ in Kashmir will be ‘peace of the graveyard’ 

Indian policemen detain a Indian Kashmiri in Srinagar on April 1, 2018. (AFP)
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Updated 02 May 2020

‘Normalcy’ in Kashmir will be ‘peace of the graveyard’ 

  • India trying to change the demography of the region, says journalist Geelani

NEW DELHI: Gowhar Geelani has become the second Srinagar-based journalist to be charged under India’s anti-terrorism law in the past few days, fueling concerns among Kashmiri reporters that authorities in the Indian-administered region are stepping up attempts to silence all critical voices.

“India wants to establish the peace of a graveyard in Kashmir by silencing indigenous voices and demonstrating a false sense of normalcy in the region,” Geelani told Arab News in an exclusive interview on Thursday.
“The larger aim seems to be to silence the articulate civil voices in Kashmir — it is not an attack on me or any other journalist, it is an assault on the institution of journalism and civility,” he said.
On April 22, Geelani was booked by Srinagar police under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), which allows authorities to designate individuals as terrorists.
Police said in a statement that they had received information from sources that: “An individual named Gowhar Geelani was indulging in unlawful activities through his writings on social media.”
“Is asking question or expressing opinion in democracy an act of terror? It is bizarre and concocted and motivated,” said the journalist, who has been recognized for his book “Kashmir: Rage and Reason,” which was released last year.
On April 21, Srinagar-based photojournalist Masrat Zahra was booked under UAPA for engaging in “anti-national activities” on social media. In the same week, another Kashmiri journalist, Peerzada Ashiq, who works for prominent national daily The Hindu, was booked on charges that one of his recent stories was “factually incorrect and could cause fear or alarm in the minds of the public.”

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Questioning of journalists has intensified following India’s decision to revoke Article 370, a 70-year-old provision that had given autonomy to the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

According to Geelani, the silencing of journalists will not be limited to Kashmir but will spread across the whole country. “The authoritarian mindset cannot act democratically and will use the instrument of the state to muzzle opinions and the press elsewhere in the country also,” he said.
Questioning of journalists has intensified following India’s decision to revoke Article 370 of the Indian constitution, a 70-year-old provision that had given autonomy to the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
New Delhi took away the state’s special status on Aug. 5, 2019, leading to a subsequent curfew and a complete lockdown in the area.
“Such acts show nervousness on the part of the government which took away the semi-autonomous status of Kashmir, and despite all the harsh measures it is not able to restore normalcy in the state,” Geelani said, adding that there was “a larger design in pursuing such political agenda” when the world was preoccupied with containing the danger of the coronavirus pandemic.
“The government is bringing new domicile law making provisions for outsiders to settle in the region, changing names of places and attempting delimitation of legislative constituencies in the state that will change the political centrality of Kashmir,” he said, explaining that such interventions only boost radical voices at the cost of moderate ones.
“People have not accepted the changes that New Delhi brought in. How long will you suppress the voice of the people through troops on the ground? There is anger. The moment there is some space available, people will react. It is the lull before the storm.”


Pregnant mom, unborn child die in India

Updated 08 July 2020

Pregnant mom, unborn child die in India

  • Devastated family mourn latest victim of health system struggling to cope with outbreak

NEW DELHI: The death of an expectant mom and her unborn child after 13 hospitals in one day refused to treat her has put India’s strained health care system under the spotlight.

The devastated husband and 6-year-old child of eight-month pregnant Neelam Singh, 30, are still struggling to come to terms with the “unwarranted loss” a month after her agonizing death in an ambulance outside a hospital in New Delhi.

With more than 100,000 coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases in the Indian capital, Singh became another victim of a health system battling to cope with patient demand due to a lack of bed space and infrastructure.

That, however, has been little comfort for her family members who said they would never be able to overcome the trauma.

“Those 12 hours were the most traumatic experience of our lives, and we have to live with that trauma,” Shailendra Kumar, Singh’s brother-in-law, told Arab News on Tuesday. Singh had developed complications with her pregnancy on June 5, and Kumar said she was rushed to the same hospital in Noida, Uttar Pradesh where she had been going for regular checkups, but was turned away.

“Shivalik (hospital) gave no reason for refusing to admit her. Despite our pleadings, the hospital did not budge from its stand,” Kumar added.

A day-long ordeal ensued, with one hospital after the other unable to treat her. Eventually, she died in an ambulance some 35 kilometers away from her home in Khoda.

“I took her to 13 hospitals, both government and private facilities, and every one refused to admit her. The image of her writhing in pain will always haunt me,” said Kumar, who was accompanied by Singh’s husband. He added that the reasons provided varied from “high costs” to a lack of facilities.

“One hospital told me that I could not pay the high cost so better try my luck somewhere else. At Sharda Hospital in Greater Noida, I was asked to buy a coupon for COVID-19 treatment for 4,500 rupees ($60), which I did, but still, they refused her entry. It was not the loss of one life but two lives,” he said, referring to her unborn child.

He pointed out that the entire family was in a state of shock following her death with her husband “the worst impacted.”

Kumar filed a complaint against Shivalik and other hospitals but said so far “no action has been taken.”

A day after Singh’s death, the district magistrate of Gautam Buddh Nagar, which Noida falls under, ordered an inquiry and issued instructions for all hospitals “to admit patients regardless of the nature of the case.”

However, 20 days later, on June 26, a similar incident was reported in the Dadri area of Noida.

On that occasion, 21-year-old Robin Bhati had developed a fever, and relatives had taken him to a nearby hospital where a week earlier he had been admitted suffering from influenza. However, the hospital refused to admit him and referred him to a different facility.

Five hours and four hospitals later, a city hospital agreed to take him in, but by then Bhati was already seriously ill and hours later he died after suffering a heart attack.

“We don’t know whether he was a COVID-19 patient or not, but why should hospitals refuse to admit a patient in need of immediate attention,” his uncle Jasveer Bhati told Arab News. A number of the Noida hospitals which allegedly denied admission to Singh and Bhati refused to comment on the cases.

In a statement on Monday, the office of Noida’s chief medical officer said: “Strict instructions have been given to all the private and government hospitals to admit all patients showing COVID-19 symptoms.”

Dr. Loveleen Mangla, a pulmonologist working with Noida-based Metro Hospital and Heart Institute, said: “The government did not prepare itself to face this situation. Now the government is trying to create extra beds and medical facilities, but it’s late. They should have done this three months ago when the nationwide lockdown started.

“With the entire medical infrastructure overstretched and not many quality health workers available in the government hospitals, it’s a grim scenario now,” Mangla added.

With more than 723,000 COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, India is now the world’s third worst-affected country after the US and Brazil, with approaching 21,000 people losing their lives.

And the problem is not unique to northern India.

On Saturday, the southern Indian city of Bangalore reported the case of 50-year-old Vasantha, who was rejected by 13 hospitals before she was accepted by the K.C. General Hospital where she eventually died.

Lalitha, a relative of Vasantha, said: “Some hospitals said they didn’t have beds; some said they didn’t have COVID-19 testing facilities, and that way we lost critical hours. She died because of a problem with her respiratory system.”

Experts have questioned whether health care facilities in India are being overstretched purely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Anant Bhan, a Delhi-based independent researcher in global health, policy and bioethics, said: “Is there a real shortage of beds or is it the shortage caused by lack of efficient management? If the cases increase further, we might find it difficult to provide care.”