Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
As a blackout effectively cutting off millions of people in a state in northern India from the rest of the world drags on, two University of New Mexico neuroscience professors from the region are worried it is “the straw that will break the camel’s back.”
More than 7,000 miles from Albuquerque, a crackdown in the only Muslim-majority state in India is affecting the lives of two UNM educators.
Neuroscience professors Mubarek Hussain Syed and Qussin Joo are from the Indian-administered portion of the Kashmir region. So they are familiar with curfews, blackouts and other restrictions that residents of the state have long faced. The couple was married during a blackout.
But the current blackout started Aug. 5. And with the passing days, both Syed and Joo grow more concerned.
“This feels different because we fear it will last longer than any other (blackout),” Joo said. “This feels like the straw that will break the camel’s back,”
India Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist-led government on Aug. 5 revoked an article in India’s constitution that gave the state of Kashmir the right to its own laws and banned outsiders from owning land, according to the Associated Press. Since then, the internet and most telephones have been blacked out for more than a month in an attempt to stop demonstrations against the policies imposed by the Indian government.
The Associated Press has reported that Indian authorities have arrested at least 3,000 people since the blackout started. Media reports indicate there have been problems getting sick Kashmiri people proper treatment. Beatings of Kashmiri residents at the hands of Indian authorities have also been alleged, according to the Associated Press.
Syed, 37, and Joo, 33, both started work at UNM in the Department of Biology earlier this year. They are trying to raise awareness for what they say has become a humanitarian crisis.
The couple has a 1-year-old son, Jibran, who up until early August would talk via video conference with his grandparents back in Kashmir daily. Those conversations have ended.
Syed and Joo don’t know what has happened to their many friends and family members in the region. Syed’s niece had just started college and his sister-in-law was nine-months pregnant when the blackout started.
“If people are not able to talk to their loved ones what kind of world are we living in,” Joo said. “My mom doesn’t have any political opinions. … All she cares is to live in peace … and be able to talk to her kids, her friends and her grandkids.”
Syed said in addition to his family, he’s worried about Kashmiri students.
He is the founder of an organization, JKScientists, which advocates on behalf of students to give them learning opportunities. In addition to the people who are still in the Kashmir region, he said it’s difficult for students who are originally from the area and studying elsewhere while they can’t reach their families.
“They are mentally distressed and they lack motivation,” Syed said. “Some students cry when I call them. They want to go back and stay in Kashmir.”