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‘Occupation’: India arrests more than 1,300 as embattled citizens reveal intensifying crackdown

‘Kashmir no longer belongs to me’ say locals, as India says withdrawal of Kashmir’s autonomy will bring economic prosperity to region 

Samaan Lateef
Srinagar, Kashmir
Wednesday 14 August 2019 17:03 BST
Army patrols intensify at India-Pakistan border ahead of Independent Day

More than 1,300 people have now been arrested in Indian-administered Kashmir, as Narendra Modi’s government continued to enforce a complete lockdown in an attempt to stave off a popular uprising.

Cut off from the outside world by a complete communications blockade, locals in Srinagar told The Independent they no longer recognise their city, transformed into a maze of barbed wire barricades since the government moved to strip Kashmir of its autonomy.

Among those 1,300 arrested or detained in their homes, a senior police official said, were 350 politicians. They include – for the first time in Kashmir’s recent history – the entire leadership of all the region’s pro-India parties, including three former chief ministers.

Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan but claimed in its entirety by both, and the Indian-administered section has been subject to a violent insurgency since 1989 in which there have been an estimated 70,000 deaths.

By blurring the lines between separatist, pro-India and pro-Pakistan political camps, the arrests in the past 10 days have in effect united the people of the valley in defence of their autonomy, said a politician from the mainstream National Conference party who asked to remain anonymous.

“For the past 70 years, we held high the Indian national flag in Kashmir [even] where separatist sentiment ran deep. This [the arrests] is the gift to people of Kashmir from the fascist regime of India,” he said.

People here are struggling to keep daily life going, but for some the lockdown makes that impossible. One woman described how her 31-year-old daughter Ayman had been expecting a baby on 7 August in the southern city of Anantnag. Just 56km away in Srinagar, she had still heard no news on whether she was a new grandmother.

Zulfikhar Ahmad, walking through Srinagar, said: “It seems this place no longer belongs to me. I fear that my land has been occupied now, [and will be] for a long time to come.”

Daily clashes have been limited by laws preventing people from assembling in groups of more than four, but hospital officials told The Independent that they had received at least 15 youths injured by police shotgun pellets to the eye.

Doctors at SMHS Hospital in Srinagar said their prognosis was “not good” as most had received damage to their retinas. “We have done their primary repair. Until the vitreous haemorrhage goes, we have to wait for surgery,” one said.

An official who has been assigned to brief media on a daily basis said the government was aware of the difficulties people were facing, but insisted the restrictions were “reasonable” because some people were hell-bent on disrupting peace in the region.

The Indian government argues that its decision to withdraw Jammu and Kashmir state’s special status is the only way to end the violent insurgency, and that it will bring economic prosperity by opening up property and job opportunities in Kashmir to the rest of the Hindu-majority country.

On Wednesday, the government announced it would hold a “first ever investors’ summit” on 12 October at a high-security convention centre in Srinagar. A statement said the event would “attract investments in various sectors of the economy of the state and showcase Jammu and Kashmir as a favourable investment destination”.

Both locals and politicians see the 5 August decision as a move aimed at changing the demography and Muslim-majority character of Kashmir, referring to it as a “conspiracy” to politically disempower them by settling Hindus in the disputed region.

“Our youth must fight the Indian attempts at demographic changes,” said another Srinagar resident, Javed Ahmad. “We have to save our lives, we have to live for azadi (freedom).”

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