Population & Society

Living in Lockdown: Learning from the Kashmir Experience

Thursday, March 26, 2020

With cities, regions and even countries going into lockdown to impede the spread of the coronavirus, physician and 2018 AsiaGlobal Fellow Amit Wanchoo, Founder Chairman of the H N Wanchoo Trust in Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir, India, provides insight into how Kashmiris have endured multiple lockdowns over the past 30 years and offers practical advice on how to live through a crisis.

Living in Lockdown: Learning from the Kashmir Experience

Security shutdown in Kashmir: For three decades, Kashmiris have coped with multiple lockdowns by building community spirit, maintaining communications and keeping calm (Credit: Meer Javid / Shutterstock.com)

Governments around the world are locking down cities, region and even the entire country in response to the spread of the coronavirus. Many friends in and outside India have asked me how Kashmiris have lived through multiple lockdowns over the last three decades. In coping with the Covid-19 pandemic, they want to learn from our experience. 

In Kashmir, our lockdowns have not been due to public-health concerns but because of politics and security. We have had social distancing – physical distancing, really – but we have had to cope with restricted or no access to the internet. Adversity brings opportunity. Positive thinking is the way to survive. I wish to share with the whole of humanity whatever we in Kashmir have learned from living in lockdown – what matters and how we should take care of ourselves.

A lockdown has immediate, short-term and long-term effects and people must deal with them accordingly. It is very important to get ready and prepare to deal with the consequences.

Preparations and planning

In a lockdown, a major challenge is healthcare. The availability of doctors and paramedics in neighborhoods, a reliable ambulance service, and a curfew pass are important for those managing sick patients at home. Extra vigilance and preparedness is required for patients who require chemotherapy, oxygen concentrators, dialysis and other special treatments. Over-the-counter drugs for common ailments should be stocked and used according to the instructions of a medical doctor. 

Having cash in hand is very important because often ATMs do not work, internet connectivity is low, or there is no money to withdraw. Stock essential foods, cookinggas and other fuels to a limited extent, but avoid panic buying. 

During a lockdown, emergency travel may be necessary so the fuel tanks of your vehicle should be adequately filled. Continuous electric supply during a lockdown may be a challenge. Be prepared with backups such as candles, LED lamps, torches, power inverters and generators. 

Mobile phones are most important for keeping connected to family and friends. Regularly recharge prepaid SIM cards and have reserve batteriesAudio and video calls and group chats on message apps allow for quality time with relatives and people who are close to us. A lockdown provides a good opportunity to resolve any long-term professional or personal issues or to reach out to family and old acquaintances with whom you have been out of touch or not on speaking terms.

A Covid-19 lockdown also provides the opportunity to take care of your body and soul. Good sleep is very important. It helps us to deal with any crisis in a better and balanced manner. Good sleep re-energizes you, enhances immunity, gives you a positive attitude and builds better mental health. 

In a lockdown, one of the biggest challenges is to handle people with mental-health issues such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and depression. Many people suffer from common anxiety. This can be due to economic, social, family, personal, professional, religious and political problemsAnyone with general anxiety may be prone to excessive worrying leading to irrational behaviour and even a full-on panic attack. Smile, laugh, be positive, share and care.

Communities have to come together to care for and feed those who cannot afford a living. We have been doing this in Kashmir, and that is why we have survived. Reach out to neighbors, friends and those who do not have resources. This can be done by sharing food and daily needs through community or individual initiatives. We can pay laborers, carpenters, plumbers, mechanics, drivers, care givers and other workers in advance. Generate trust and a sense of community bonding with a common goal of healing and helping. I have witnessed this marvelous magic many times in Kashmir. 

Another major challenge is to have verified news from trusted sources. Unfortunately, on social media and messaging platforms, fake news is in abundance, which results in panic. Managing anxiety and panic during a crisis requires us to focus on facts and not random bulletins or broadcasts that might shock or cause an emotional reaction. The general public should avoid learning everything about Covid-19 from social media. A lot of the information that gets posted and passed around just adds to the hysteria. Go to reliable news sources about the coronavirus twice or three times a day. Read and share stories, especially positive and inspiring ones, only from credible media outlets. 

Lonely in Italy: Essential to getting through a lengthy lockdown are planning, patience and positive thinking (Credit: Boaz Guttman)
Lonely in Italy: Essential to getting through a lengthy lockdown are planning, patience and positive thinking (Credit: Boaz Guttman)

Livelihoods must go on

The economy always suffers ruthlessly in a lockdown. In Kashmir, government employees have been a great support in sustaining the community and helping us survive. They get their salaries on time, and it is this cash that flows in the market. Business establishments that trade in daily needs, medicine, communications, education, entertainment and media typically benefit most. Micro, small and medium-sized enterprises and the corporate sector are hurt more. Bank loans, credit facilities, relaxation of mortgage payment requirements, and insurance guarantee schemes do help. 

Remember that, in every locality, it is the neighborhood shops, not the supermarkets, which will sustain you. The shopkeepers receive cash payments from salaried government employees and the better-off households. The proprietors use that money to buy goods to sell. They usually allow all other customers to pay in installments or once a crisis ends. The normal supply chain can continue without disruption for about three weeks, provided citizens stick to their normal needs and do not waste resources or succumb to panic buying. Households should plan their meals. Families may even choose to skip meals or follow a simpler diet. 

During a lockdown, never forget that homemakers are working as hard as ever – even more so. Salute those who are cooking and feeding us in spite of all the difficulties. These are the days when we should make them feel special. Spend time with them cooking in the kitchen, compose a poem in their honor, write them a note of gratitude, draw something beautiful, or make a video. Give thanks.

A major challenge for the private sector in a lockdown is paying salaries when no revenue is coming in. We have managed this in three ways. First, after consulting employees, pay them a basic amount during the crisis, making adjustments after the situation ends. Another way is to cut salaries by, say, half for the highest-paid staff and 25 percent for middle-level employees, with no cut for the lowest paid. A third option is to offer employees flexible working hours so that they can take other work. Doing this, however, may not be possible in a Covid-19 lockdown.

The young and the restless

Children and youngsters pose a great challenge in a lockdown. Their energy levels are so high that you cannot possibly tamp them down and have instead to channel that vigor to productive and positive activities. First and the foremost, limit their access to social media. In a crisis, fake news and negative posts can have a significant negative impact on the psyche and wellbeing of young people. Take time to understand what they are thinking and feeling. Initiate frank and friendly conversations, encourage traditional storytelling, and debate about issues which are of concern to them. Discussions should be candid but not lurid. This is a good time to encourage children to pick up or practice local languages and to learn more about art and culture. 

It is also important to get them involved in community work from home. Parents can help kids to create social media posts to share information about how to deal with Covid-19, about the need to show respect for senior citizens, and about inspiring local people who are fighting the coronavirus. They can even launch online contests. Impart to young people a feeling of responsibility towards the community. This will have great positive impact on them in the long run.

Finally, do not fixate on the future. Over the past three decade, I thought a lot about what lay ahead. But I realized that it is sometimes better to accept that things happen the way nature allows – whatever will be wil be. During a crisis like the Covid-19 pandemic, we need patience, planning, perseverance and a positive attitude in a crisis like COVID19. When I was young and preparing for exams in a very difficult subject. My teacher offered this perspective: “ When the examination paper is very tough, then the majority pass. If the paper is very easy, few will do well because standards are higher.” Think of the coronavirus as a very tough exam for humanity, but if we keep inspired and motivated in our lockdowns, the majority will pass this test.

Opinions expressed in articles published by AsiaGlobal Online reflect only those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of AsiaGlobal Online or the Asia Global Institute


Amit Wanchoo

Amit Wanchoo

2018 AsiaGlobal Fellow, Asia Global Institute, The University of Hong Kong

Dr Amit Wanchoo is a medical doctor, entrepreneur and social activist. He was a 2018 AsiaGlobal Fellow of the Asia Global Institute at The University of Hong Kong. He is founder chairman of the H N Wanchoo Trust, which operates an ambulance service in the Kashmir Valley, and CEO of SPACE Communications in Srinagar.

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