‘Our hearts are on fire’: Kashmir spends Eid al-Adha in lockdown | World news
Areas of Srinagar deserted during religious holiday, usually one of the year’s busiest. Muslims in Indian-administered Kashmir spent the religious holiday of Eid al-Adha in a security lockdown, unable to call their friends and relatives as an unprecedented communications block remained in place for an eighth day.
In Srinagar, Kashmir’s main city, Indian troops reportedly allowed some residents to walk to local mosques alone or in pairs, but areas of the city were almost entirely deserted on what is usually one of the biggest celebrations of the year.
Blocks on landlines, mobile phones, the internet and cable TV, introduced last Monday, continued.
Authorities said the restrictions were in place to avoid unrest. Last week 10,000 people reportedly took to the streets of Srinagar to protest against Delhi’s decision to revoke Kashmir’s special status. Government forces reportedly opened fire and used teargas. The Indian ministry of home affairs denied that any protests of more than 20 people took place – though TV footage appeared to show very large crowds chanting: “Go back, go, India, go.”
Quick guide Kashmir Show Hide Who controls Kashmir?
The region in the foothills of the Himalayas has been under dispute since India and Pakistan came into being in 1947.
Both claim it in full, but each controls a section of the territory, separated by one of the world’s most heavily militarised borders: the ‘line of control’ based on a ceasefire border established after a 1947-48 war. China controls another part in the east.
India and Pakistan have gone to war three times over Kashmir, most recently in 1999. Artillery, mortar and small arms fire are still frequently exchanged.
How did the dispute start? After the partition of colonial India in 1947, small, semi-autonomous ‘princely states’ across the subcontinent were being folded into India or Pakistan. The ruler of Kashmir dithered over which to join until tribal fighters entered from Pakistan intent on taking the region for Islamabad.
Kashmir asked Delhi for assistance, signing a treaty of accession in exchange for the intervention of Indian troops, who fought the Pakistanis to the modern-day line of control.
In 1948, the UN security council called for a referendum in Kashmir to determine which country the region would join or whether it would become an independent state. The referendum has never been held.
In its 1950 constitution, India granted Kashmir a large measure of independence. But since then it has eroded some of that autonomy and repeatedly intervened to rig elections and dismiss and jail democratically elected leaders.
What is Kashmir’s special status? Kashmir’s special status, given in exchange for joining the Indian union, has been in place since 14 May 1954. Under article 370, the state was given a separate constitution, a flag, and autonomy over all matters except for foreign affairs and defence.
An additional provision, article 35a, prevented people from outside the state buying land in the territory. Many Kashmiris believed this was crucial to protecting the demography of the Muslim-majority state and its way of life.
The ruling Bharatiya Janata party repeatedly promised to scrap such rules, a long-term demand of its Hindu nationalist support base. But analysts warned doing so would almost certainly ignite unrest.
On Monday 5 August 2019, the government issued a presidential order to abolish Kashmir’s special status. The government argued that the provision was only intended to be temporary and that scrapping it would boost investment in Kashmir. Critics, however, said the move would escalate tensions with Pakistan – which quickly called India’s actions illegal – and fuel resentment in Kashmir, where there is an insurgency against Indian rule.
What do the militants want? There has been an armed insurgency against Indian rule over its section of Kashmir for the past three decades. Indian soldiers and Pakistan-backed guerrillas fought a war rife with accusations of torture, forced disappearances and extra-judicial killing.
Until 2004, the militancy was made up largely of Pakistani and Afghan fighters. Since then, especially after protests were quashed with extreme force in 2016, locals have made up a growing share of the anti-India fighters.
For Indians, control of Kashmir – part of the country’s only Muslim-majority state – has been proof of its commitment to religious pluralism. For Pakistan, a state founded as a homeland for south Asian Muslims, it is the last occupied home of its co-religionists.
Michael Safi and Rebecca Ratcliffe
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Thank you for your feedback. The Guardian saw three people who had sustained injuries from pellet guns on Friday, but was unable to confirm the total number of people wounded. Hospitals have apparently been warned not to disclose patient numbers.
“Our hearts are on fire,” said Habibullah Bhat, 75, who told Associated Press on Monday that he came to offer prayers despite his ill health. “India has thrown us into the dark ages, but God is on our side and our resistance will win.”
A spokesperson for the Indian home affairs ministry said on Monday that prayers had gone ahead peacefully in local mosques in various parts of the state “without any untoward incident”. Kashmir police also said Eid festival prayers “concluded peacefully in various parts of the [Kashmir] valley”.
India’s foreign ministry shared photographs of people visiting mosques but did not specify where the photographs were taken.
The communication blackout means there is very little independent information about what is happening in Kashmir, where tens of thousands of reinforcement troops have flooded the streets.
Cuts to phone and internet services have forced people to resort to passing paper notes to friends in order to contact relatives. It took three days for one note, sent by a woman working in Delhi, to be hand-delivered to her father in Kashmir. “I am fine, do not worry about me. You take care of yourself,” the note said.
In an office complex in central Srinagar, scores of people queued for hours last week to use one of the few government phones that were made available to the public.
Inside the small room where calls were taking place, a young girl could be heard telling her father, who was in Hyderabad: “I don’t want any gifts, just please come back.” As her mother started to cry, so did others in the queue outside. A police officer told her to stop weeping, and said there were CCTV cameras operating.
Timeline Key events in Kashmir Show Hide 1 August 1947
With the end of British colonial rule, the Indian subcontinent is partitioned into predominantly Hindu India and mainly Muslim Pakistan. Mass migrations follow, with Hindus and Muslims moving to their country of choice. More than a million people are killed in the communal violence that ensues.
1 October 1947 India and Pakistan fight their first war over control of Muslim-majority Kashmir, a kingdom ruled by Hindu Maharaja Hari Singh. The war ends in 1948 with a UN brokered ceasefire, leaving Kashmir divided between the nations, with the promise of a referendum to chose which nation its people wish to join.
8 August 1965 A second war erupts over Kashmir, with India and Pakistan agreeing to a UN-mandated ceasefire the following month.
5 December 1971 The third war between India and Pakistan is fought in East Pakistan, ending with the creation of independent Bangladesh.
10 May 1974 India detonates a nuclear device in the first confirmed nuclear test by a non-permanent member of the UN security council.
1 December 1988 India and Pakistan sign an agreement that neither will attack each other’s nuclear installations or facilities; it takes effect in 1991.
8 May 1989 Armed resistance to Indian rule in Kashmir begins. India says Pakistan supports local fighters with weapons and training, which Pakistan denies, saying it only gives local Kashmiris “moral and diplomatic” support.
8 May 1998 India detonates five nuclear devices and Pakistan responds by detonating six of its own. International sanctions are imposed against both.
1 December 2001 India masses troops along its western frontier with Pakistan and the Kashmir boundary after blaming Pakistani insurgents for a deadly attack at the Indian parliament. The standoff ends in October 2002 after international mediation.
8 September 2016 Suspected rebels sneak into an army base in Indian-controlled Kashmir and kill at least 18 soldiers. Indian forces later attack militant bases in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir.
14 February 2019 A car bombing of a paramilitary convoy in Indian-controlled Kashmir kills 40 Indian soldiers . Militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed, headquartered in Pakistan, claims responsibility. India blames Pakistan and promises a “crushing response”.”
5 August 2019 India’s central government changes part of the Indian constitution and downgrades Jammu and Kashmir from one state to two territories . The changes eliminate Kashmir’s right to its own constitution, limit its decision-making power, and allow non-Kashmiri Indians to settle there.
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Thank you for your feedback. Kashmir’s biggest newspaper, which was previously distributed to around 60,000 people, now prints a couple of thousand copies, and is only four pages long.
Facebook Twitter Pinterest Security personnel stop men for questioning. Photograph: Tauseef Mustafa/AFP/Getty Images
Vijay Keshav Gokhale, the foreign secretary of India, said on Monday that the government was trying to handle the situation “as sensitively as we can and with restraint”. There was no shortage of cash in the territory, he said, adding that rumours of food shortages were “entirely unfounded”. He also said that healthcare facilities were functioning as normal.
There are concerns that patient numbers in Srinagar’s hospitals have drastically reduced because people have no way of calling for an ambulance, and because travel restrictions mean people struggle to drive across the city.
Armed Indian paramilitaries, who were flown into Kashmir in the run-up to the special status announcement, staff road blocks that appear every few hundred metres. Paramilitaries are accompanied by a few local police officers who have been disarmed. “We have been humiliated. We gave blood for them and they disarmed every one of us,” said one local constable at a checkpoint in Srinagar’s Batamaloo neighbourhood last week.
Quick guide Where in the world have governments imposed internet and telephone blackouts? Show Hide
Governments around the world have used internet blackouts, or blocked popular platforms such as WhatsApp, at times of political crisis. Several countries have also used temporary outages to try to foil cheats in national exams. The controls India has put on communications in Kashmir – blocking phone lines and the internet, and limiting travel to the region – have created a rare degree of isolation.
Netblocks monitors outages worldwide, and has recorded dozens of cases this year alone. But it is rare for all communication, including phone lines, to be severed. Other countries that have limited their citizens’ communications, both temporarily and long-term, in recent years include:
North Korea is probably the most isolated country in the world. Its people cannot make or receive international phone calls , or access the global internet. Mobile phones operate on a closed domestic network, and North Koreans can only surf a highly restricted national intranet. Xinjiang region in western China was largely isolated for 10 months in 2010 . After riots, Beijing blocked internet access and barred international phone calls. Since then an unprecedented surveillance system has been put in place that allows authorities to monitor residents’ phone and internet use rather than blocking it entirely. China has blocked its internet off from the rest of the world wide web with digital barriers known colloquially as the ‘ Great Firewall ’. Companies that are a staple of digital life elsewhere, including Facebook, Google and Amazon, are blocked and unknown in China. However the controls can be dodged with a VPN, and phone connections to the rest of the world are open. Sudan had a month-long internet blackout during mass demonstrations this year . Other countries have shut down the internet or blocked major sites during times of political tension, including Zimbabwe during fuel price protests this year and Uganda for the swearing in of a president whose re-election sparked protests. Iraq , Algeria and Ethiopia are among several countries that have temporarily blocked the internet to prevent cheating in national high school exams. These blocks have usually only lasted a few hours. Emma Graham-Harrison
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Thank you for your feedback. Another local police constable said he would not act if there were protests in the area where he was deployed in Srinagar. “The future of children is at risk now. They have devastated everything,” he said.
Many Kashmiris fear the removal of the territory’s special status will alter the demography and way of life in what is India’s only Muslim-majority state. Under the changes, Kashmir loses its constitution and flag, while rules that prevent outsiders from buying land in the territory have also been scrapped.
Kashmir valley is divided into 10 administrative districts. There appears to be no independent reporting from the four southern districts, which were the hotbed of protests in recent years, since roads leading south are strictly blocked by razor wire.
A soldier, who was flying home to the Indian state of Haryana last week after remaining posted in a counter-insurgency battalion in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district, said there were regular protests in villages there.
“The situation will now improve in Kashmir,” he said, referring to abrogation of the law. “There will be now more power with police and with us, we can now thrash without any problem.”
Associated Press contributed to this report.
Topics Kashmir India South and Central Asia news