By DAR YASIN Associated PressJuly 7, 2021, 4:56 AM• 2 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleSRINAGAR, India — Young health worker Masrat Farid has trekked long distances through remote Himalayan meadows in Indian-controlled Kashmir to vaccinate nomadic herders in a campaign launched in June. Her challenge isn’t the treacherous terrain, she says, but persuading people to get inoculated against the coronavirus.“Everywhere we go it seems rumors reach earlier than we do, and it makes our job difficult,” Farid said during a recent vaccination campaign in a high altitude meadow. She said most people are hesitant to get vaccinated because of the rumors.And the rumors are plentiful.Fueled by misinformation and mistrust, many residents, particularly in remote areas, believe that the vaccines cause impotence, serious side effects and could even kill. Some simply say they don’t need the shots because they’re immune to the coronavirus.Still, Kashmir has done better than the rest of India. Scores of health workers like Farid have fully vaccinated over 9% of the eligible people among the region’s 14 million population, compared to less than 5% for India’s nearly 1.4 billion people. Almost 53% in Kashmir have had a first shot.Mukhti Khan, an elderly woman, belongs to a family of nomads who have traveled for centuries between summer mountain pastures and winter grazing grounds in the lowland plains, herding their goats, sheep and horses.On a recent day, Mukhti expressed her gratitude as a medical team visited the village near the remote pasture where she and her extended family have camped with their cattle. They can travel on foot to the village but must walk for hours to the nearest town for any medical emergency.“It would have been quite an effort to go to the town for vaccinations,” she said as she received her first shot.Apart from the hesitancy, the health workers have faced hostility as well.“There are places where our colleagues have been attacked,” said Farid, who has vaccinated over 800 people so far.Some of the attacks were fueled by fears that videos taken by officials of the vaccination campaign could be used by authorities to encourage support for the Indian government, which many Kashmiris deeply dislike. Most want independence or a merger with neighboring Pakistan, which controls another part of Kashmir. Both countries claim the entire disputed territory.
By DAR YASIN Associated PressJune 15, 2021, 7:05 AM• 2 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleSRINAGAR, India — Singing and dancing at weddings used to earn Khushi Mir enough income to take care of her family. Until the pandemic.Lockdowns to curb the coronavirus in Indian-controlled Kashmir canceled weddings and musical evenings. Bills for Mir’s rented accommodation mounted.Unable to pay, 19-year-old Mir took a job as a construction worker for 15 days. It paid $9.60 a day but left Mir’s hands bruised and skin peeling.“I had no other option,” Mir said. “I needed to provide for my family.”Mir is transgender — belonging to a marginalized community in Indian-controlled Kashmir whose members are often only able to find work as matchmakers or wedding entertainment.Prolonged coronavirus lockdowns, preceded by a strict security lockdown in the region in 2019 when India scrapped Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status, left many in the transgender community with no work at all.Left without livelihoods, some stepped up to help each other.Mir and four others made a volunteer group to distribute food. So far, they have provided ration kits for nearly 220 people, many of them makeup artists, singers and matchmakers who have lost their livelihoods during the pandemic.Life has not been easy for many of Kashmir’s transgender people. Most are ostracized by families and bullied in society. They face domestic abuse and end up running away from families at an early age. Some lack housing, education and other basic resources.They are a tiny minority in a region that has been fraught with violence and political instability and has known little but conflict since 1947, when British rule of the subcontinent ended and Kashmir was divided between the newly created India and Pakistan.Living in the shadows of conflict, coupled with the recent crisis of the pandemic, pushed the community further to the margins.“We have been ignored by everyone,” said Chandini Shaikh, a matchmaker and singer who lost her job during the pandemic. “We have been left on our own.”