Small volunteer groups in Kashmir act as beacons of hope

Despite blockade of foreign aid, volunteer groups in Kashmir rise to challenge crisis

SRINAGAR, Jammu and Kashmir (AA) – Trapped in an unending cycle of violence and now in the grip of a pandemic, many people in Indian-administered Kashmir continue to remain on edge, particularly the poor.

More than 100 lives have been lost in the disputed Himalayan region this year due to violence by both government forces and militants, according to police data. Nearly 28 civilians have also been killed in suspected militant attacks.

However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, 4,426 people, with most of them having suffered underlying ailments, died, putting the already fragile community in more adverse conditions.

On March 18 last year, when the regional administration of Jammu and Kashmir imposed a strict lockdown to stem coronavirus infections, Aijaz Ahmad Wani was baffled by the situation.

The young man’s only concern was how to care for his elder diabetic and paralyzed sister at their home in the Shadipora village in the restive region’s Budgam district.

Diagnosed with periodic paralysis – a rare genetic disorder that causes sudden attacks of short-term muscle weakness, stiffness or paralysis – at an early age, Gulshana Wani has remained bedridden for almost 20 years of her life.

Struggling with abject poverty, Gulshana lost her parents years ago. But when the pandemic hit the region, it unnerved Aijaz and Tabassum Jan, the younger siblings and caretakers of Gulshana.

“For two months at a stretch, there was no source of income for us. We were almost starving,” Aijaz said, adding it was very tough to manage medicines for his ailing sister during that time.

Dropping out of school at the age of 13 and now working as a laborer, Aijaz has been unable to work and support his impoverished family since Aug. 5, 2019, when the Indian government stripped the region of its limited autonomy.

The move threw the region’s population of over 12 million into a complete blackout after communication lines were severed.

Aid group rush to help

As Aijaz was eagerly looking for financial help, it was the Help Poor Voluntary Trust (HPVT) based in the main city of Srinagar which managed the medical bills and provided medical assistance to Gulshana.

After getting to know Gulshana’s condition, the aid group provided all the medicines free of cost.

HPVT chairman Farooq Ahmad Bhat told Anadolu Agency that they are trying to help poor patients in whatever way they can, but there are many out there where help is yet to reach them.

The aid group has been at the forefront of providing free medicines and medical assistance to the poor since the pandemic hit the region. For the past two years, it has helped over 3,000 patients with free medicines and is continuing to offer its services.

Hard to mitigate crisis

With foreign aid to the region blocked, small voluntary groups are still struggling along despite few donations coming in.

“I have never seen such a crisis in my whole life where working class people are seeking help for food and medical assistance,” Manzoor Ahmad, a volunteer working with the Athrout Organization, told Anadolu Agency. The group primarily works in the areas of medical assistance, food and education.

Data shared by the group show that for the last two years, more than 300 patients were given oxygen cylinders for free over a specific time period, some 150 people were given free dialysis treatment and around 200 families were given free food kits.

In 2014, when the Kashmir region witnessed a crisis due to floods and the administration was largely “off the scene,” it was only Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) – the region’s largest socio-political organization – that rushed to the aid of people organizing aid and relief campaigns.

From rescue to relief operations, the group managed well. But amid the current crisis, they are nowhere to be found, as the Indian government imposed a five-year ban on the group, claiming it is involved in “subversive activities” and “in touch with the militant groups.”

Zahoor Ahmad Tak, chairman of Jammu and Kashmir Yateem Trust, an orphanage organization, told Anadolu Agency that definitely a group like JeI, which has done invaluable humanitarian work, especially in the 2014 floods in the region, is being badly missed in the present crisis.

“The group is very much aware of the problems faced by people in the region as they work at a very basic level. But unfortunately, during the present crisis, they don’t have access to reach people as they are banned,” Tak said.


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