Before the phones came back to life, Kashmiri families could not even mourn their dead – World

The sad news came too late. And death certificates could not be delivered under an Internet blackout.

This article originally appeared on and has been reproduced with permission.

The news came from strangers. Hafizullah Reshi, who had gone to Ladakh on business, received a call around 8:30 a.m. on August 31, telling him that his father, Ghulam Nabi Reshi, had died an hour ago. The call was made from a police station in Srinagar.

His wife, food writer Marryam Reshi, who was in Delhi, received a call from another police station in Srinagar later that morning. I was ready for the news. She had just talked on the phone with her husband, who had called her crying.

"Mujeeb hund bud bubbe chu gozrayamat"- (Mujeeb's grandfather passed away), said the voice on the other side of the line. Mujeeb was his nephew.

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Two days later, after Marryam Reshi published the news on social networks, another nephew, Aamir Ismail Najar, who works in Gurgaon, discovered that his grandfather had died. "He called a friend in Srinagar whose landline was working and asked him to visit our house and check if the news of his grandfather's death was true," said his older brother, Umar Ismail Najar, who was in the house next door . to Ghulam Reshi when the tragedy occurred.

A sudden collapse

For weeks, this is how Kashmir learned of the death of their loved ones, in fragments of strangers and notices in the newspaper seen too late, in frantic phone calls on landlines and, if they were outside the Valley, in network publications social.

On August 5, when the Indian government announced that it was stripping Jammu and Kashmir of its special status and dividing it into two territories of the Union, all communication lines were cut. That included landlines, cell phone connections, mobile and broadband Internet. Only a few government enclaves in Srinagar had landlines in operation. For about a month, common cashmeremen had to queue for hours at the offices of the deputy commissioner or at local police stations to make calls. It was not until September 5 that all landlines were restored.

As Marryam Reshi pointed out, few people made calls unless it was an emergency. In addition to the long wait, police stations had become fortresses guarded by the Central Reserve Police Force, while dozens of detainees were arrested daily. This meant that the news of illness was not shared unless it seemed critical. The news of death, if it came, was almost always a shock.

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Between August 5 and 31, Marryam and Hafizullah Reshi had not spoken with their family, who lives in Safa Kadal, in the center of Srinagar. "We had a landline but we gave it up years ago," said Marryam Reshi. "Our neighbors had a landline, but we never thought to take their number until after August 5. By then it was too late."

But they tried not to worry. The couple had last seen Hafizullah's father, Ghulam Nabi Reshi, a month before his death and there seemed to be nothing wrong apart from the usual ailments of old age. The 82-year-old man had gone through open heart surgery 16 years ago and his family took him to regular checkups.

In the month before his death, his health had worsened, an echocardiogram with worrying results, a bad fall, but nothing that seemed critical enough to attempt phone calls. Then, on the morning of August 31, he suddenly collapsed.

Spreading the word

Umar Ismail Najar, who lives next door in Safa Kadal, was awakened by screams. "My uncles and aunts started screaming when my grandfather's body cooled," he said. The family quickly took him to the Sri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital, approximately one kilometer away. There, he was pronounced dead.

For the family in Kashmir, the next most heartbreaking task was to inform the great family of Ghulam Reshi, disseminated by Srinagar and outside the Valley. Umar went first to the Safa Kadal police station to call his uncle, Hafizullah. But the police did not "cooperate," he said. As they needed it at home for funeral arrangements, friends had to try their luck at other police stations or personally visit relatives who lived in Srinagar. Some areas, such as Soura, which had seen frequent protests, remained out of reach.

A month and a half after the death of Ghulam Nabi Reshi, said Marryam Reshi, the family had not yet received a death certificate. "Because the municipality delivers death certificates online, we have not yet received Dad's certificate," he said. “It will be administered once the Internet is functioning correctly in the Valley. Then, we will receive an SMS, after which a fee must be paid and the certificate will be charged in person. "

Internet services are still suspended. On October 14, postpaid mobile connections were restored, but SMS services stopped hours later, after an attack in South Kashmir.

A long wake

The blackout of communications made even the smallest distances within the Valley seem vast. For example, just 35 km away separates the Ider village of Sopore Iqbal Nagar and the Madder district of Bandipora. Retired professor Mohammad Maqbool Bhat had died in Sopore on September 10. The news of his death took three weeks to reach Bandipora. Social bereavement rhythms, sympathy calls to support family members were interrupted during a difficult time.

Bhat's relatives in Sopore said it was difficult for them to spread the word. "Ultimately, we just moved on with the funeral who arrived at his house on September 10," said a relative. "All the people who lived nearby succeeded."

He also blamed the security restrictions in Sopore for the poor assistance. The city and its surroundings, located in the Baramulla district in northern Kashmir, have long been a point of conflict in the Valley. "Many avoided Sopore because it is a bastion of politics in favor of freedom, so there are many restrictions." We believe that is why many did not appear immediately after his death, "he diagnosed.

Kaneez Fatima, fifty-five, who lives in Madder, is ashamed that she and her family cannot attend Bhat's funeral. “We went there on October 5. Actually, my other sister-in-law, who lives in Sopore, found out and told us when she visited us in Bandipora. He had no way of letting us know the day it happened, ”he explained.

The delayed news has meant a long wake.

According to Bhat's relative, the duel had not stopped even a month after his death. "Professor Bhat was well known, so visitors continue to cram his residence," he said. "Everyone apologizes and says they got to know it from someone else, word of mouth."

Header image: a Kashmir man prays in a cemetery in the Anchar neighborhood in Srinagar on September 20. – Reuters



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