People in Indian-administered Kashmir face spending the Eid religious holiday under curfew, hungry and unable to contact friends and relatives, with food shortages in locked-down urban areas.
Queues formed at cash machines and food shops yesterday as officials announced an easing of restrictions that have prevented millions from leaving their homes for almost a week. It followed major protests on Friday that reportedly saw at least 10,000 people take to the streets of Srinagar to demonstrate against Delhi’s withdrawal of special rights for India’s only Muslim-majority state. Police reportedly responded with tear gas and rubber pellets to disperse the protest – the largest to take place since the state was placed under an unprecedented communications blackout last week.
An Indian ministry of home affairs official called the reports “completely fabricated and incorrect”, adding: “There have been a few stray protests in Srinagar/Baramulla and none involved a crowd of more than 20 people.”
The BBC released a video showing thousands marching through the streets of Srinagar, carrying signs that read “We want our freedom” and chanting “Go back, go India go”. The footage shows people scattering and running for cover as police fired tear gas and pellet bullets.
It is not yet known if curfews or communications blocks will be eased for Eid al-Adha . Unless such restrictions are lifted, people will spend Eid, one of biggest celebrations of the year for people in Kashmir, unable to contact their relatives, and with those in urban areas facing possible food shortages.
Landlines, mobiles, internet and, for many, cable TV all remain blocked. Cashpoints across Srinagar are reportedly empty.
Syed Asim Ali, who returned to Delhi from Srinagar on Thursday, said his family was low on food and had been eating dried vegetables stored as emergency supplies for curfews. “There is going to be a terrible food shortage in a few days,” he said. “We managed to buy dairy supplies [from shop keepers who had closed their doors], but they were saying all the supplies from Jammu had been blocked.”
Baseer Khan, the top administrative official of Kashmir Valley, said essentials such as food, grains and meat would be delivered to different parts of the region by Sunday
There are also serious concerns about the lack of access to healthcarefor millions of people. One doctor at an emergency department in a hospital in Srinagar said patient numbers had drastically reduced. “On an average day we see over 1,000 patients, but now less than 100 manage to reach here,” the doctor, who declined to be named, told Agence France-Presse.
Ambulance services aren’t working and people attempting to drive to hospital have reportedly been turned away at checkpoints. Ali managed to get to a pharmacy to pick up medicine for his child last week, he said, but supplies there were worryingly low.
India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, said the removal of Kashmir’s special status would bring greater prosperity to Kashmir, and free the state of terrorism. But the decision is widely opposed in Kashmir, where even prominent pro-India politicians have been detained.
The move strips Kashmir of the autonomy it was granted in exchange for joining the Indian union after independence in 1947, meaning it will lose its constitution and flag. Rules that prevent outsiders from buying land in Kashmir are also being scrapped, prompting fears that the territory’s demography and way of life will be altered.
Delhi’s announcement not only faces major resistance in Kashmir, it has also escalated tensions with Pakistan and been condemned by China and, most recently, Iran.
According to the semi-official Fars News Agency, Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Movahedi Kermani, an adviser to Iran’s supreme leader and Tehran’s Friday prayer leader, told hundreds of worshippers that India’s actions were “an ugly move”, Associated Press reported. In Pakistan, many are demanding a tough response from prime minister Imran Khan. Thousands of supporters of Jamaat-e-Islami, a Pakistani Islamist party, marched through Islamabad on Friday, condemning Delhi’s action. In one of the city’s biggest shopping centres, visitors also called for action. “[Khan] should come up with an effective policy to show to the world what India is doing. He should give India a shut-up call,” said Anam Rana, a student at Quaid-e-Azam University.
“We should talk of peace with India but we can’t clap with one hand. India doesn’t want peace,” said Awais Siddiqui, a telecoms engineer.
Khan suggested Delhi might carry out ethnic cleansing. He has expelled the Indian high commissioner and halted trade, while Pakistan’s army chief has said forces would take any action to “stand by” Kashmiris.
“They can’t be silent about it because if they are it will also be seen as a defeat for them. For many years now they have used Kashmir has a symbol of national unity,” said Khalid Shah, an associate fellow at the Observer Research Foundation.
Khan has vowed to go to the United Nations and lobby heads of states, although the response so far has been muted. “Ultimately, Pakistan may be frustrated on the world stage, which enhances the likelihood that it may try to resort to sub-conventional uses of force – pushing back at India by encouraging its militant assets,” said Michael Kugelman, a South Asia expert at the Wilson Center in Washington.
“The next time there is an attack in Kashmir, India will blame Pakistan, regardless of the facts,” he added: “And then the two sides will find themselves in an immediate crisis that could well escalate into a conflict.”
In Kashmir, hundreds of migrant workers have fled, fearing unrest, while thousands of villagers living along the heavily militarised “line of control” dividing Kashmir between India and Pakistan have also left their homes.