Kashmiris use improvised shields as troops fire into them

Updated August 17, 2019

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SRINAGAR: A young boy joins protesters holding aloft placards at a rally against India on Friday.—AFP
SRINAGAR: A young boy joins protesters holding aloft placards at a rally against India on Friday.—AFP

SRINAGAR: Hundreds of protesters in Occupied Kashmir clashed with police on Friday, even as New Delhi claimed it would begin restoring phone lines after a 12-day communications blackout.

With the Indian government fearing protests and unrest, the disputed territory has been under lockdown since the first week of August, when New Delhi stripped the region of its autonomy.

Police fired tear gas and pellet-firing shotguns to disperse residents who tried to march down the main road in the main city of Srinagar after Friday prayers.

Protesters hurled stones and used shop hoardings and tin sheets as improvised shields, as police shot dozens of rounds into the crowd. No injuries were reported.

“We are trying to breach the siege and march to the city centre but police are using force to stop us,” one protester said, adding that three people were injured in Thursday’s clashes with police officers and reservists.

Sporadic clashes were also reported in other parts of the India-held valley, the main hotbed of resistance to Indian rule for decades, where phone lines and internet connections have been cut off for nearly two weeks.

Major towns and cities in the restive valley remained under curfew, with government forces allowing people to move only on special passes.

Indian forces erected steep barricades and used concertina wires to block roads.

No big gatherings were al­­lowed in the valley and most mosques were shut for the second consecutive Friday.

“We want what is ours. We are not begging for anything but demand India should respect its promises,” a second protester said. “We will not sit back until we achieve complete independence from India,” he said.

The protesters marched along the lanes of Srinagar, carrying black flags — signifying grief — and placards with slogans including “Go India, go back”.

The clashes took place as a top official said that authorities would begin restoring phone lines in Kashmir on Friday evening, including in Srinagar.

Jammu and Kashmir chief secretary B.V.R. Subrahman­yam did not make clear whether mobile phones and internet connections would also be reinstated.

He said the restoration would “(keep) in mind the constant threat posed by terrorist organisations in using mobile connectivity to organised terrorist actions”.

Fearing an angry response to its move to end held Kashmir’s autonomous status, India deployed 10,000 additional troops — joining the half a million already there — severely restricted movement and cut telecommunications.

Published in Dawn, August 17th, 2019