In Kashmir, a Race Against Death, With No Way to Call a Doctor
HEEVAN, Kashmir — Saja Begum was cooking dinner when her son walked into the kitchen with a stricken look on his face. “Mom,” he said. “I have been bitten by a snake. I am going to die.”
Ms. Begum could not call an ambulance: The Indian government had shut down Kashmir’s cellular network. She then began a panicked, 16-hour odyssey to find an antidote that could save her 22-year-old son.
While his leg began to swell and he grew faint, she trekked across a landscape of cutoff streets, security checkpoints, disconnected phones and hobbled doctors.
Two months after the Indian government revoked Kashmir’s autonomy and imposed harsh security measures across the Kashmir Valley, doctors and patients here say the crackdown has taken many lives, in large part because of a government-imposed communication blackout, including shutting down the internet
Cancer patients who buy medicine online have been unable to place orders. Without cell service, doctors can’t talk to each other, find specialists or get critical information to help them in life-or-death situations. And because most Kashmiris don’t have landlines in their homes, they can’t call for help.
“At least a dozen patients have died because they could not call an ambulance or could not reach the hospital on time, the majority of them with heart-related disease,’’ said Sadaat, a doctor in a Kashmir hospital who did not want to be identified by his full name out of fear or reprisals.
Many doctors interviewed for this article said they could be fired for even speaking with reporters.
Kashmiri doctors have also accused Indian security forces of directly harassing and intimidating medical personnel.