Tens of thousands of government forces in riot gear patrol the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir, known as Jammu and Kashmir. Streets lined with shuttered shops are deserted. Steel barricades and razor wire cut off neighborhoods. An eerie silence is broken by an occasional security vehicle whizzing past.
The region is under an unprecedented security lockdown. Once a British-controlled colony, Kashmir today is claimed in full by both India and Pakistan. China also controls a smaller segment there. Rebels in the mostly Muslim region have been fighting against majority Hindu Indian rule for decades.
A decision from India’s government early this week created greater concern for rioting and violence. Officials in New Delhi voted to revoke the special status of Kashmir from statehood to territory. The decision removes much of Kashmir’s autonomy to govern itself.
In expectation of potentially violent reactions to the vote, India sent more armed foot soldiers into Kashmir. It also implemented curfews and a near-total communications blackout. Blockades and checkpoints slow or completely limit even foot traffic in central Srinagar, the region’s main city. Few pedestrians venture out to seek approval to move about from the helmeted soldiers wielding rifles and protective shields. Shopping malls, grocery stores, and even medical clinics are closed.
The communications blackout means that landlines, cellphones, and the internet are all down for Kashmir’s residents. People cannot call one another or speak to relatives outside the region. Only emergency phone lines are open. Residents must rely on limited cable TV and local radio reports for situation updates. Even some international news organizations had to hand-carry their dispatches out of the region.
Though residents can make emergency calls for help, even ambulances dispatched in response must stop at every checkpoint. They must gain approval from soldiers stationed at each before proceeding toward the patient in need.
Police and paramilitary officials enforcing the restrictions say they do not know how long the curfew will continue. “We know only about what’s going on in the street we’re deployed. We don't know how it is in the next street,” said a police official in Srinagar.
Leaders of some of Kashmir’s rebel groups called on local police to refuse to enforce New Delhi’s curfew orders.
Kashmir’s fury at Indian rule is nothing new. India and Pakistan both gained independence from Britain in 1947. But a United Nations-administered referendum left Kashmir in an undetermined state. Did it belong to India or to Pakistan? The dispute has never been settled, despite two wars and ongoing conflict.
(A Kashmiri boy walks past an Indian Paramilitary soldier after buying fresh bread during curfew in Srinagar, Indian-controlled Kashmir, on August 6, 2019. AP Photo)