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For Kashmiris, every day is a challenge of isolation and disruption

September 7, 2010

سرحدی عقاب

When children are sick or lack milk, residents say, people have little choice but to break curfew. But they’re often helped by strangers at a moment’s notice.

But these are stopgap measures, leaving day-worker Jalah’s family and others with little choice but to eat less. “We’re getting by on rice and salt,” she said. When the violence ebbs, residents race to ATMs and shops, as happened one day in July. After a tight curfew was reimposed the next day, however, Srinagar once again looked like it had been hit by a neutron bomb, its buildings intact but its streets largely devoid of people, except for an occasional figure scampering rodentlike along shuttered storefronts. When children are sick or lack milk, residents say, people have little choice but to break curfew. But they’re often helped by strangers at a moment’s notice. In Srinagar’s Batmaloo neighborhood on one sunny morning, a paramilitary patrol crept along an alley. A few hours earlier, its high-powered weapons had killed a government worker walking past protesters on his way to work, according to family members and residents. Almost seamlessly, three women in the path of the patrol melted into a walled-off courtyard, out of danger. “If there’s trouble, all Kashmiris let you in,” said Mir, the tea-wallah. “It’s only human.” Not surprisingly, children cooped up for days grow frustrated and stressed. “They inevitably start going crazy,” said Javed Ahmed Rather, 45, a pharmacist.

Faced with frequent school closures, some families hire tutors, others home-school. Some Kashmiri students thrive, such as Faesal Shah, 26, the son of a man killed by militants. Shah earned the top score in India’s civil service exam this year.

But most parents say their children don’t get a good education despite all they shell out. “We still have to pay the school fees, whether they go or not,” said Bashir Ahmed Dar, 52, a hotel worker and father of three teenagers. “It’s difficult.”

Getting cash can be another challenge. Wary of police restrictions and angry mobs if it used armored cars, J&K Bank bought two ambulances to fill its ATMs. Once filled, machines meant to dispense for a couple of days sometimes empty in an hour. “If you get hit by a stone, or a bullet, go to the hospital and don’t have cash, you’ll get nowhere,” said the bank’s chairman, Haseeb Drabu.

Los Angeles Times

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