‘Navratri and Ramzan’: A Story of Community Building in Kashmir During Lockdown

With 879 cases and ten deaths as of May 12, locals in Kashmir have been facing a lockdown within a lockdown.

Amid such a situation, and in a region layered with concertina wires and coronavirus red zones, Mohit Bhan, a local socio-political activist, found himself stranded in Bandipora as Kashmir was locked down again, this time over the coronavirus pandemic. Bandipora also houses Danger Mohalla, one of the coronavirus hotspots in the Valley.

Bhan, who travelled to Kashmir from Jammu to visit his friends, realised that he wouldn’t be able go back home since the pandemic had force-sealed all borders.

After staying with his friends, Bhan was offered refuge by Bilal, an acquaintance he came in contact with during their social activism, which is focused on the renovation of a few temples in north Kashmir and on helping retrieve land belonging to the Pandits.

“I have been here for 40 days now. When it was the Navaratri fasting period, thee family ensured a proper vegetarian meal was cooked separately for me. And while they’re all fasting during the month of Ramzan, they make sure I don’t skip a meal. It’s the age-old bond of co-existence which we have shared in Kashmir for centuries,” said Bhan. “The family also made sure I had medicines and clothes.”

This Ramzan was certainly different for Bhan as he himself experienced what keeping a Roza means.

“Getting up for sehri, followed by other spiritual activities, to the preparation for iftaar, is a new experience for me. It’s like my Muslim friends visiting me for Shivratri celebration and being inquisitive about every ritual being performed,” he said.

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Bhan is also helping everyone deal with the ongoing crisis.

“While staying here, we realised the crisis is only worsening and that we need to contribute to the society. We formed a COVID-19 volunteers task force comprising of para-medical staff, doctors, chemists, farm fertiliser suppliers and registered them for assistance with the local police and deputy commissioner,” he said.

They also formed teams who went to different areas advising people about the do’s and don’ts while reaching out to those who might need help.

“Rafqat Mir, Umer Mir, Shahnawaz Hurrah, Bilal Hurrah and I covered some 200 families and supplied medicines and dry ration to the needy,” said Bhan.

Bhan also shares how not only Bilal’s family but even his extended family members ensure his comfort. “We often have fierce debates, arguments on political, social or national issues. These discussions are often a part of our evening coffee table conversations,” said Bhan.

As communal sentiments spread faster than coronavirus, Bhan’s Ramzan, as he recalls, has been a different yet comforting experience reflecting a sentiment of inclusivity that has existed in the Valley since time immemorial.

As Rasool Mir, the revered Kashmiri poet, once said, “Through love, thorns become roses.”

Tarushi Aswani is pursuing a Masters degree in Global Studies at Ambedkar University, Delhi. She can be reached at tarushi31@gmail.com.

Featured image credit: Mohit Bhan