Suhail Mehraj, a youth activist who represented Kashmir at UN Youth Assembly, is also one of the advisers on the UNDP board. UNDP is also working with different volunteer initiatives for the welfare of the people in Kashmir. He is interacting with a Youth Ki Awaaz user about the pandemic, lockdown, internet, education, and about how Kashmir and Kashmiris is/are fighting against the virus.
Raaz Dheeraj Sharma: People are comparing Kashmir with Kerala and appreciating the way Kashmir is fighting and dealing with the coronavirus. What is the status of the ground?
Suhail Mehraj: I think we need to appreciate the concern that common people are sharing toward this pandemic in Valley. People always expect their governments to bail them out when a disaster hits, to abate its repercussions. But the present pandemic was out of everyone’s imagination.
I heard about some groups staying up for nights, assisting paramedics with essential laboratory support. Meanwhile, a video also surfaced on social media, a youth crying for not having resources to lend any help. It’s our collective success, and we should celebrate that we are a civilization that keeps on dreaming and solidifying although a past of tribulation.
What’s special about this workforce is its giving hope to people other than essential commodities. Here is something the government needs to learn from this workforce, about how to turn people-oriented, by channelizing the various forms of resources to lead a civil revolution in times of scarcity. Most of these initiatives are Youth-led which makes it more special; it creates a greater state of tranquility. Kashmir rather differs from Kerala.
Raaz Dheeraj Sharma: How are people spending their days during lockdown? Is internet working all over Kashmir?
Suhail Mehraj: It’s very unfortunate when the world is turning into a digital community, here, people still can’t find easy excess to the internet. People were expecting the government to restore the 4G internet as it stands as a big hurdle for everyone to return to their normal business during these though times. Students and entrepreneurs are the two worst-hit sections. Many of the students who returned home from outside, are finding it very arduous with their lives being paused. Indeed, when all you want is to enrol yourself in an online class with your classmates but you can’t, it will be frustrating. The slow internet is also reducing the speed of authorities operating to combat this virus.
Raaz Dheeraj Sharma: How is the leadership dealing during the lockdown, and whether people can easily approach state machinery during lockdown or not? How is the state machinery implementing lockdown?
Suhail Mehraj: These are very tough times, and un-elected regime makes it more difficult for people to see their choices and opinions out of scene. The bureaucracy is turning avenues of hope for people. The young people in it are setting examples by initiating creative initiatives to reach out to the people in these tough times. Some are unique in itself in the world. This young and capable force is helping the Valley breath healthily.
Although there are very limited channels for people to reach out to machinery, the government needs to find ways to help people reach government channels better. It’s the same as other states; but yes, there might be some issues, but the machinery is trying hard to meet the people’s demands. There is indeed a shortage of doctors and paramedics. People are reporting a lack of facilities in quarantine, but the machinery is quick to respond to people’s grievances.
Raaz Dheeraj Sharma: Kashmir is facing this pandemic after the Central government declared the state as a Union Territory. How is the state governor leading the state during this difficult time?
Suhail Mehraj: Everyone wants to bail out people for all kinds of issues and problems concerning them. I think he’s normal with his efforts. People on the ground like doctors, police, journalists and the administrators are making a difference.
Raaz Dheeraj Sharma: During Lockdown 1.0, the Governor of Union Territory declared financial package and claimed that the same will benefit 35 lakh people working in organized and unorganized sectors. Are the people aware about this, and are they getting benefit from this announcement, or not?
Suhail Mehraj: It’s not a concern for the government to tell people what it is doing out of what money. People are never made to learn about the fundings and progress reports. RTI activists are always trying to clean the dust and colour the background picture.
Raaz Dheeraj Sharma: How is this pandemic affecting labour classes and poor of Kashmir?
Suhail Mehraj: These are very tough times for everyone. But this isn’t for the first time they are observing such circumstances. It’s the workforce of young people collaborating to help the unprivileged section of the society. They have pooled all their resources to meet the daily needs of such people.
Raaz Dheeraj Sharma: People are comparing the lockdown with the curfew in Kashmir. How are the people of Kashmir differentiating between the curfew and lockdown?
Suhail Mehraj: Indeed, we can’t. The lockdown is now turning to its third month; for people in Kashmir, this lockdown isn’t new. But yes, the fear and the nature of the state make it arduous for people to feel it’s a preventive effort by the machinery. Although machinery always looks for better options to achieve people’s good. But there is always a lot scope to reach out to people with a fair approach.
Raaz Dheeraj Sharma: Online classes during lockdown is a new initiative. Are students in Kashmir getting to attend their classes? Do you think online classes would be a better alternative for Kashmir, especially during tough situations and during winters?
Suhail Mehraj: The slow internet is reducing every effort to make online learning a better substitute. I think the government needs to prioritize education and make it neutral. But unfortunately it isn’t considering the welfare of the students in the Valley. They need to put a student-oriented policy, considering their choices and challenges. The concept of learning has changed over the years. States are reforming their education policy to make it more student-friendly. But quality and approach to education remain the same here.
Raaz Dheeraj Sharma is a YKA user who writes on different issues.