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An Update From Kashmir's Largest City That's Under A Communications Blackout

Aug 14, 2019
Originally published on August 14, 2019 5:17 pm
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

For the last week and a half or so, some 12 million people in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir have been completely cut off from the world. There is no phone service, no Internet and at least 300 local politicians have been detained. For decades, this Muslim-majority state had been semi-autonomous with its own constitution. Last week, the Indian government revoked that special status, and India's government cut off communications and sent in thousands of troops to quell expected protests.

Well, we're joined now by Ahmer Khan. He's a journalist who's been over on the Indian side of Kashmir. He is now in New Delhi, and he joins us via Skype. Welcome.

AHMER KHAN: Thank you.

KELLY: You were there as recently as just this past weekend. Is that correct?

KHAN: Absolutely. I have been there for a couple of days now, and this was my third trip in the last 10 days.

KELLY: And describe what the streets are like, what you saw.

KHAN: Things are really bad as of now. Thousands of troops have been deployed across the Kashmir region. People can't come out of their homes (ph) and they're not able to buy food or medicine. Communications blackout - all landline, Internet, mobile services have been shut down for the past 10 days now. And it looks unlikely that Indian government will restore all these services in the next couple of days.

KELLY: I was looking at some of the photos you filed on your Twitter feed, and I was seeing barbed wire strung up along the streets, trying to enforce a curfew and just keep people at home.

KHAN: Yes. I mean, the city has turned into barbed wires and steel. As we know, Kashmir is known as paradise on Earth. But right now, there's no more paradise. Schools, colleges, offices are shut down. There's no life as of now in Kashmir.

KELLY: Paradise on Earth because of the great natural beauty of the area. Is that right?

KHAN: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

KELLY: Yeah. You described that this is your third trip in and out just in the last few days. Have you seen differences as you have gone in and out each time?

KHAN: On either, the biggest celebration for Muslims in Kashmir was aid and we saw the most strict curfew I've ever witnessed in my lifetime. And...

KELLY: The most strict curfew.

KHAN: Yes, yes.

KELLY: So as you moved around trying to interview people and report, were you able to get to people? Are people afraid to talk?

KHAN: It's been a very difficult ride for journalists in these couple of days. There's no way that you can talk to people across the city. But, yes, journalists have been able to file stories only when they're able to fly to Delhi or send their flash drives through someone at the airport.

KELLY: And just walk me through how you have been able to conduct any interviews. I assume the curfew also applies to you. And as we noted, there's no coms, so you're not able to call.

KHAN: Absolutely. Curfew is for everybody. In fact, journalists were asked to go back and not report or film or photograph. But, you know, you're a journalist, and you need to navigate all these things in order to report the truth from the ground. And that's what our job is. I've been moving on my moped all across and...

KELLY: On your moped.

KHAN: Yes. It's been a really awful experience because I was photographed by security forces - by Indian forces on the streets. And my name has been put on a list, so we don't know what's going to happen next.

KELLY: It would be dangerous for you to go back in. Is that what you're saying?

KHAN: Yes. I mean, 700 political and activist businessmen have been arrested. And we have no sign of them where they are as of now. Maybe the next target is journalists.

KELLY: Yeah. You mentioned that one way that journalists have tried to get their stories out is handing over flash drives at the airport. Does that mean flights are going in and out?

KHAN: Yes. The flights are operational. You can see people moving in and out. Foreign journalists have been barred to come to Kashmir, so whatever reporting is coming out is just from the local reporters and, of course, the Indian reporters.

KELLY: And what are you hearing from people in terms of what the long-term impact might be? Assuming that communication will come back at some point, are people suspicious of the government more so than they were 10 days ago?

KHAN: I mean, look. Kashmiri population - 65% of them are suffering from PTSD. So you can imagine the toll we are taking as a community, as a region, where we already have so many things going on between India and Pakistan and now China. Our education is suffering. Our medical health is nowhere. Our tourism is nowhere, even though it's a paradise on Earth. So we are suffering in all spectrums.

KELLY: That's Ahmer Khan. He's a journalist speaking to us from New Delhi. He has just returned from Kashmir.

Ahmer Khan, thank you.

KHAN: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.