Thursday, October 28

Hope and disappointment under lockdown in Kashmir – photo essay | cashmere


HGrowing up in the troubled Indian region of Kashmir, photographer Showkat Nanda knew what it was like to be “a child of conflict,” the name often used to describe generations of Kashmiri youth since the 1980s. This picturesque region The Himalayas has been a source of conflict between India and Pakistan for decades, with several wars fought over the territory, and since the 1990s it has been home to a strong Indian military presence and a long-standing separatist insurgency with loyalty to Pakistan. .

Yet while it is militants, soldiers and politicians who dominate the headlines about Kashmir’s problems, Nanda’s gaze has often turned to the most invisible victims, in which he sees himself: the children. from Kashmir.

A group of 11 friends take a break outside of their school in the Baramulla district.  The girls have been friends since kindergarten.  Since August 5, 2019, when schools were closed due to a military shutdown, they could not be seen for nearly 18 months, first due to a military siege and then the COVID-19 shutdown.  Getting together after almost a year and a half has been a once in a lifetime experience.

  • A group of 11 friends take a break outside of their school in the Baramulla district. The girls have been friends since kindergarten. They were unable to see each other for nearly 18 months after the schools closed on August 5, 2019 due to a military shutdown, followed by the Covid-19 shutdown. Getting together after almost a year and a half has been a once in a lifetime experience.

Girls picking wild tulips in an apple orchard near their school.  Most compare this particular experience to the reopening of their school and call it a
Girls picking wild tulips in an apple orchard near their school.  Most compare this particular experience to the reopening of their school and call it a
Girls walk to school after playing

Nanda had already been working on a long-term project documenting the emotional and psychological trauma experienced by youth in Kashmir when the Magnum Foundation approached him seeking proposals for a photo essay. Her thoughts turned to a photo she had recently taken of two girls sitting together in the waiting room of a psychiatric hospital where they were being treated for depression, and what they had been through since 2019.

Two teenagers sit in the waiting room of a prominent Kashmiri psychiatrist in the summer capital, Srinagar.  Both are in treatment for depression.

While the blockades have been a reality for the world since the beginning of 2020, for the people of Kashmir, their blockade began seven months earlier. It was in August 2019 that the Indian government decided to unilaterally revoke Article 370, which had given Kashmir, one of the few Muslim-majority regions in India, a semi-autonomous status for almost 70 years. Kashmir was completely under the control of the central government of India, led by Narendra Modi, and the entire state was subjected to military repression.

Cashmere.  Baramulla.  Mubashira talks to his friends while saying goodbye to them after they visited his home.  The friendship and bond they share has given them a new life since the schools reopened after nearly 18 months.  2021
Seerat was afraid of failing her exams in 2020. The feeling led to extreme anxiety.

Kashmiris were confined to their homes as thousands of troops entered, politicians were arrested, telephone lines were cut, the internet was shut down for more than six months, and all schools were closed. Then, to add more to their fight, in March 2020, Covid-19 struck India and a nationwide lockdown was imposed.

“I wanted this project to be a continuation of what I was already doing: photographing these children, who have already gone through a traumatic childhood due to the conflict that is raging in the region, but were then affected by two years of confinement. , first from the military siege in 2019 and after the pandemic, ”said Nanda.

Mubashira walks through a mustard field near her house with her friends from the group.  Since they started school, some girls also meet at their friends' houses after school to do homework, discuss their studies, and have fun.  2021

“I became interested in this because as a child growing up in Kashmir, I experienced many of the things that these children were experiencing now. In a way, he was not only telling his story, but also mine. “

Iqra, Mubashira, and Rizwana look out of a window in their class, Baramulla.

But after visiting one of the girls at their homes in the small town of Baramulla in February 2021, Nanda learned that, for the first time in more than a year and a half, the schools were about to reopen. For this 15-year-old, the excitement was palpable.

Not only had she been denied an education for 18 months, but the closing of the schools had also meant the separation of her group of 11 friends, all girls who had been friends for as long as they could remember. This period of two confinements had been the longest they had been apart since they were in kindergarten.

“It was then that I had the idea to make this a hopeful story, to photograph this reunion and make this a photo essay about these 11 girls who are using this reunion as a form of healing,” said Nanda.

M has suffered from panic attacks and nightmares.  She took antidepressants for almost three months last year.

The girls participated voluntarily, although some asked that their faces be hidden, and it turned out that their school principal had gone to school with Nanda, so he trusted him with unusually open access.

“When I went to their school, I could see that the girls were happy and playing together and I could also feel that some of the girls who really struggled with depression and psychological problems during the confinement were being helped by these friends. They were almost healing companions for each other, ”Nanda said.

Even though the girls were from a relatively remote village in Kashmir and lived fairly strict lives, Nanda found that they were highly engaged and curious about the world around them. “They were very outgoing,” he said. “They talked about everything, they talked about movies, they talked about technology, they talked about politics, they even talked about American politics as well.”

Girls in their classroom after lunch break, Baramulla, Kashmir.
R showed signs of depression in April 2020 and has been in treatment ever since.  In the last three months he has shown improvement and his symptoms have greatly diminished.

It turned out to be spring, and in addition to documenting them in the classroom and on the playground, Nanda photographed the 11 friends as they played together in the fields, picking bunches of wild tulips and sitting under the almond blossoms, capturing what he hoped for. let it be the beginning of a new period of freedom and rejuvenation for these girls.

However, it was not. Less than a month later, a devastating second wave of Covid-19 swept across India and schools in Kashmir were closed once again. Once, the girls were locked up and isolated from each other.

Misbah, like some of his friends, was unable to leave his home for many months.  She said that she could not concentrate on her studies and thought that COVID could attack her and her family.

  • Misbah, like some of his friends, was unable to leave his home for many months. She said that she could not focus on her studies and thought that Covid could attack her and her family.

Hafsa plays with birds in a cage, 2021

Moving her photo essay from one of hope to one of frustrated expectations, Nanda decided to end up photographing the girls in their homes, capturing them as they gazed sadly out the window, their uniforms hanging limply from a hanger. With schools closed and crucial exams facing cancellation, girls feared for the future.

Aizar's uniform has hung on a wall since the schools closed again.

  • Aizar’s uniform has hung on the wall since the schools closed again. He went to school just two weeks after they opened in March 2021. Aizar has not suffered from any emotional problems. However, he said that sitting at home during the Covid-19 pandemic was extremely concerning.

“I was in a WhatsApp group with all of them, and there was a message that came up over and over again: ‘Do you think there is a chance that the schools will reopen’?” Nanda said. Four months later, they are still closed.


www.theguardian.com

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