Life in the disputed territory of Kashmir under the coronavirus

 A paramedic contacts a doctor after my friend’s father Mohammad Shafi Gojri died on the way to the hospital due to sudden cardiac arrest.  (Sharafat Ali/VII)
A paramedic contacts a doctor after my friend’s father Mohammad Shafi Gojri died on the way to the hospital due to sudden cardiac arrest. (Sharafat Ali/VII)
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Ever since the Indian subcontinent was partitioned into independent India and Pakistan in 1947, both nations have been in conflict over the Himalayan territory of Kashmir. The territory is divided between the two nations — Pakistan controls the northern and western parts, while India controls the largest portion — but claimed in its entirety by both.

Kashmir is a place of breathless beauty, from the serene waters of Lake Dal to its snow-capped mountains. But it is also the site of horrific struggle, pushed and pulled by the political ramifications of being a disputed territory.

Photographer Sharafat Ali’s project “This is normal” gives us a tiny glimpse into what life can be like for the people who live in Indian-controlled Kashmir. The region, encumbered by decades of trauma fueled by India-Pakistan tensions, was plunged into yet another bout of crisis as the coronavirus pandemic swept through.

In 2019, the Kashmir Valley was put under an even more stringent military lockdown than normal after the Indian government revoked the special status of the part of Kashmir it controls. The pandemic’s arrival only worsened the already anxious situation.

“People feared that the pandemic would wreak havoc here,” Ali said, though he added that the people of Kashmir are used to lockdowns — they have become a part of life in this disputed territory.

As Ali noted, “Lockdowns are not new to us. They’re more of a time-killing machine. Netizens are used to military lockdowns and lockdowns without internet.”

Ali’s images document the pandemic’s toll on the politically and militarily ravaged region by “exploring the people inside their homes and outside.”

“The life I watched during the times of fear made me feel so disturbed … unthinking, unknowing, day by day … their soft dyes have steeped my soul in color that will not pass away,” Ali said.

All the images in this series were produced using a cellphone. Ali told me he chose to work this way because “I did not want to appear as a photographer when people were going through a difficult time. The mobile phone gave me more confidence to intrude on people’s private lives and get the best of the work done — during and after the times of pandemic.”

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