The communication blackout and severe restrictions imposed by the Indian authorities over the disputed Jammu and Kashmir have deprived people of critical medical care in far off towns and villages.
Roshna Wani suffers from colon cancer. A resident of southern Kashmir's Banihal district, she underwent surgery in the summer, a piece of her damaged intestine was removed, and doctors prescribed a course of chemotherapy to arrest the spread of cancerous cells.
But she feels she's going to die soon. The crushing siege imposed by India since August 5, has deprived her of timely medical care.
In late August, 65-year-old Roshana waited in a long queue at the oncology department of the Sher-I-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS), a multi-specialty hospital in Srinagar city. She was accompanied by her 73-year-old husband Ghulam Mohammed Wani, and the couple had gone through a harrowing ordeal, navigating the 110-km distance between Banihal and Srinagar.
“I don’t know how we made it here this time," Roshana told TRT World.
Her health deteriorated during the severe restrictions and the communications blackout imposed by the Indian government in Jammu and Kashmir region after abrogating its semi-autonomous status on August 5.
Miles away from the SKIMS, where she underwent surgery, she couldn't update her doctor about the complications she'd developed. Almost two weeks passed and there was no sign of communications being restored. The couple had already made one attempt to reach the SKIMS, but the Indian soldiers turned them back midway.
"I told them I am a cancer patient and showed them my surgery marks, the doctor's prescription, but they didn't listen and told us to go home.”
The second time, their neighbour gave them a ride to an adjacent district, where they found a cab headed to Srinagar city, a rare privilege during curfews. They hitchhiked the rest of the distance to the hospital.
The oncology department was crowded with patients. Roshana had to wait for 85 patients to be examined by the doctors before her turn. Almost every patient required emergency medical care and most of them couldn't get a timely medical response, even turning common illnesses into chronic ones.
As of now, with Kashmir entering the 35th day of lockdown accompanied by a communication shutdown, the larger aftermath of India's iron-fisted approach is yet to be measured. With most of the villages and towns cut off from the rest of the world, it remains to be seen how many silent and hidden victims New Delhi's clampdown has produced in the last month. According to local accounts, the number is likely to be in thousands.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called upon the Indian government to "take all necessary steps to ensure people can obtain healthcare and emergency services.”
Drug distributors in Kashmir have already expressed their concerns regarding the internet shutdown, saying they are unable to place orders online and buy essential drugs and medical equipment.
A senior doctor at the SMHS's emergency department spoke to TRT World on condition of anonymity, fearing reprisals from the Indian government. The doctor said he can recall at least five to six patients dying because specialist doctors couldn't be contacted in time.
He said soon after the military curfew was imposed in some neighbourhoods and severe restrictions in others, the cancer patient in-flow has alarmingly dropped. Only about five percent of patients manage to reach the hospital for chemo or radiotherapy or scheduled check-ups.
"Earlier, if patients missed their treatment, we would call them. But until a couple of days ago we couldn't make calls even within the hospital. Overall, there has been a 50 percent decline in dialysis or cancer patients. Yesterday [August 28] we received only six out of the scheduled 10 patients," he said.
On August 12, the doctor said that a machine called Linear Accelerators at the Oncology department stopped working. The hospital authorities had to dispatch human messengers to the technician's house. The technician reached the hospital after a day-long delay, and after examining the machine he said one of its blown parts needed to be procured from New Delhi.
"Somehow we managed to send out the information and it took us two days to get it working again. As many as 120 cancer patients were scheduled to get their treatment during these two days. No one did," said a doctor at the SKIMS's oncology department.
"There was no way to contact the patients and tell them to stay home as the machine was not working," he said. "Those who turned up after going through a lot of security hassles had to return with a feeling of dejection."