Kashmiris defy curbs, clash with Indian forces

Updated August 24, 2019

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(Clockwise): Kashmiri Muslims shout anti-India slogans during a protest at Anchar Soura locality of Srinagar on Friday, following Delhi’s decision to strip the disputed region of autonomy. An elderly man is stopped before being allowed to pass near a checkpoint set up by Indian soldiers during lockdown in Srinagar. Kashmiris run for cover as smoke rises from teargas shells fired by occupation forces during clashes.—AFP/AP/Reuters
(Clockwise): Kashmiri Muslims shout anti-India slogans during a protest at Anchar Soura locality of Srinagar on Friday, following Delhi’s decision to strip the disputed region of autonomy. An elderly man is stopped before being allowed to pass near a checkpoint set up by Indian soldiers during lockdown in Srinagar. Kashmiris run for cover as smoke rises from teargas shells fired by occupation forces during clashes.—AFP/AP/Reuters

SRINAGAR: Occupation forces used tear gas against stone-throwing residents in India-held Kashmir’s main city of Srinagar on Friday, after a third straight week of protests in the restive Soura district despite the imposition of tight restrictions.

Police tried to enter Soura, which has emerged as a centre of the protests, as hundreds of locals staged a protest march against Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to withdraw autonomy for the disputed territory of Kashmir on Aug. 5.

Posters appeared overnight this week in Srinagar, the Muslim-majority region’s main city, calling for a march to the office of the UN Military Observer Group for India and Pakistan (Unmogip), to protest against India’s decision.

This was the first such call by Kashmiri leadership. India’s move was accompanied by travel and communication restrictions in held Kashmir that are still largely in place, although some landlines were restored last week.

In a narrow lane of Soura, blocked like many others with rocks and sheets of metal, residents hurled stones at the paramilitary police to stop them from moving into an area around the local mosque, Jinab Sahib, which had earlier been packed for Friday prayers.

The police responded with several rounds of tear gas and chilli grenades but were beaten back by dozens of stone-pelting men. Some men suffered pellet injuries.

The locals said the occupation forces had been repeatedly trying to move into Soura, often using tear gas and pellets.

“We are neither safe at home, nor outside,” said Rouf, who declined to give his full name. He had rubbed salt into his face to counteract the effects of tear gas.

The afternoon had begun peacefully, with men and women streaming into Jinab Sahib Mosque for prayers. A cleric then raised a call for “Azadi” several times, and declared Kashmir’s allegiance to Pakistan.

“Long live Pakistan,” the cleric said, as worshippers roared back in approval.

US President Donald Trump plans to discuss Kashmir when he meets Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the sidelines of a G7 meeting in France this weekend, a senior US administration official said on Thursday.

Mr Trump, who has offered to mediate between India and Pakistan, will press Mr Modi on how he plans to calm regional tensions after the withdrawal of Kashmir’s autonomy, and stress the need for dialogue, the official said.

At least 152 people have been hurt by teargas and pellets since Indian forces launched their crackdown, data from the Himalayan region’s two main hospitals shows.

Large swathes of Srinagar remain deserted with shops shut except for some provision stores with shutters half-down. Police vans patrolled some areas announcing a curfew and asking people to stay indoors.

On the Dal Lake, long rows of houseboats, normally packed with tourists at this time of year, floated closed and empty, as police patrolled its mirror-calm waters in boats.

Published in Dawn, August 24th, 2019