Restrictions, security lockdowns and information blackouts are nothing new for residents in India-administered Kashmir which is now under a Covid-19 lockdown.

Volunteers making face shields, in India-administered Kashmir on April, 27, 2020.
Volunteers making face shields, in India-administered Kashmir on April, 27, 2020. (AP)

On the streets of Indian-administered Kashmir, there's an eerie silence, as armed soldiers patrol the city under lockdown in an attempt to curb the spread of Covid-19. Jammu and Kashmir have 523 cases and six deaths, according to India's government website.

Restrictions, security lockdowns and information blackouts are nothing new for residents in the India-controlled portion of Kashmir.

Over seven million of the region's residents were forced to stay indoors for months when in August last year, India stripped Kashmir of its semi-autonomous status and enforced a total communications blackout.

But inside this workshop, it's buzzing with the sound of sewing machines.

Volunteers prepare personal protective equipment – masks, suits and face shields in India-administered Kashmir. April, 27, 2020.
Volunteers prepare personal protective equipment – masks, suits and face shields in India-administered Kashmir. April, 27, 2020. (AP)

These volunteers are making personal protective equipment ––masks, suits and face shields –– all products in high demand due to the global pandemic.

Zehra, 22, earns her living working as a tailor at a Kashmir arts and crafts unit. But the unit was closed after an increase in Covid-19 cases in the region.

"Our employer closed his unit and we were told to stay home. It impacted our livelihood," she says.

"After a few days, I got a call from my employer, to enquire if I am willing to work for Ehsaas International group. I thought it's better to work, as I will earn and also in this process I can be of some help to society."

Over 300 volunteers work across 20 centres to produce more than 800 PPE kits a day. The kits are then supplied to hospitals.

"It was not rocket science to understand that there will be a shortage of such PPEs and materials," says Tabasuum Geelani, chairman of NGO Ehsaas International group, that's leading the program.

"The pandemic had broken much earlier in very developed countries and there was already a shortage. So, what we could think of was an innovative, indigenous production – this was the only solution in present circumstances. We made some prototypes and got it approved, quality-wise and stitching-wise from the authorities."

Jammu and Kashmir have had far less confirmed cases of Covid-19 compared to India.

But some experts say there's an acute shortage of high-quality PPE kits across hospitals in the region, putting doctors and frontline workers at risk.

"The main problem which doctors and the other frontline workers in Kashmir are facing is the lack of PPE kits and whatever the government is providing them, most of the doctors I spoke to about this, they're saying that those kits, those PPE kits, protective equipment, they are not up to the mark," says Manzoor Ul Hassan, a public health commentator.

"So, doctors and nurses, they are facing a kind of dilemma, whether to attend the Covid positive patients or not. So, it's something, which we really need to kind of look into."

Kashmiris are familiar with lockdowns.

When India's government stripped the region's special privileges last year, thousands were arrested, the rest of the population was incarcerated in their homes.

Some of the life-crippling restrictions have been eased, but certain security restrictions remain in place.

The Covid-19 lockdown has seen a lot of volunteer work, especially by Kashmiri women, who are at the forefront of making PPE kits.

Twenty-eight-year-old Mufti Sadia is a fashion designer.

But now she's making face masks that will be donated to hundreds of people and non-government organisations.

"Whatever was available in the market was of huge prices and there was a huge shortage of masks. So, I thought, why not contribute to the society?" she says.

"I was fortunate enough to have the resources and workers with me at this difficult time."

While India's Covid-19 lockdown is expected to end on May 3, Kashmiris will probably continue to live with many restrictions.

India and Pakistan claim the divided territory of Kashmir in its entirety.

Most Kashmiris support the rebel cause that the territory be united either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country, and also participate in civilian street protests against Indian control.

Source: AP