Lockdown in Kashmir: an uncertain future lies ahead
Often referred to as ‘Paradise on Earth’ Kashmir remains entirely cut off from the rest of India as a weary and scared population worry about their future.This after the Indian government removed Kashmir's special autonomous status from its constitution.
Indian government forces continue to be deployed in strength with severe restrictions imposed on movement of people with public meetings banned and roads and neighborhoods barricaded, confining millions to their homes.
Forced to stay indoors, residents are cut off from vital services, while schools and educational institutions remain closed. Communication services in Kashmir continued to be blocked for the fourth day on Thursday.
Tourists have fled the scenic Valley
Mobile internet is suspended, and cellular network, landline and broadband connectivity is down leaving worried residents unable to reach their close family members.
Newsrooms in the summer capital, Srinagar, have been unable to send dispatches as a result of the gridlock.
“We really don’t know what is happening in the city let alone the Valley. When we try to step out we are pushed back in. Our pleas fall on deaf ears,” Sheikh Manzoor, a resident of downtown Srinagar told RFI.
Several people that RFI spoke to by satellite phone said even healthcare availability for civilians was badly disrupted, with limited access to ambulances or any ability to call one.
“It took me two days of pleading and cajoling many security personnel to allow my ailing uncle to be taken to Shri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital located in the main city Srinagar,” says a scared Abdul Bhatt, a shopkeeper.
“We have no idea how our relatives are living not just in the Valley but even in the big cities. We have heard that Jammu and Kashmir is not a state anymore but what does it mean for our future?” exclaimed Majeed Dar, a waiter in a restaurant.
Though banks do reportedly have enough cash and fuel stocks are plentiful, the possibility of curfew being imposed means that banks and fuel stations may be shut.
Unaware of change to constitution
“What is the point of pumps being open, we cannot go out unless special permission is given,” claimed Mukhtiar Ali, a taxi driver.
Many were unaware of the import of what India’s parliament had passed.
The new rules stripped the country’s only Muslim-majority state of its right to govern itself and put it under New Delhi’s rule.
Article 370 of is a provision in the Indian Constitution that confers special status on the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Its revocation means Indians outside of the state would gain the legal right to own property there.
Concerns mount in lockdown
Critics say such changes would lead to demographic transformation and have accused the Hindu nationalist-led government of wanting to establish a Hindu majority in the predominantly Muslim region.
“It is something I fail to fathom. How can the government decide what is in the interests of seven million Kashmiris? Were they consulted? Were discussions held?" Tufail Ahmad, a senior advocate told RFI.
"This move was pre-meditated and now we are left to wonder what will happen?” he goes on, saying the move will be challenged in the Supreme Court in the coming days.
Total information blackout
A current lockdown like this never been witnessed, not even when armed militancy erupted in 1989-90. The paralyzing curfew-like situation across the Valley with jackboots on the ground has led to a total information blackout.
To date there have been over 175 instances of government-ordered internet shutdowns in Jammu and Kashmir since 2012. This year alone, the region has seen 53 instances.
Authorities are not saying when the restrictions will be lifted and if normalcy will return.
With the Muslim festival of Eid falling on August 12, a restive and weary population fear for their lives. Many others worry about an impending surge in violent clashes.