SRINAGAR: Thousands of Indian troops imposed a curfew in occupied Kashmir on Tuesday, with razor wire and steel barricades blocking main roads a day ahead of the one-year anniversary of the disputed and restive region being stripped of its autonomy.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi imposed direct rule last August 5, after decades of violence that have seen tens of thousands of people killed in an anti-India uprising.
Officials announced a two-day “full curfew” on Monday citing intelligence reports of looming protests in the region of seven million people, where locals have called for the anniversary to be marked as a “black day”.
Police patrolled the main city Srinagar after dark on Monday and again on Tuesday morning, with officers using megaphones to order residents to remain indoors.
A “full curfew” means people can only move around with an official pass, usually reserved for essential services such as police and ambulances.
The disputed Himalayan region is already subject to restrictions to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, with most economic activities limited and public movement curtailed.
On Monday morning, new barricades were placed on main roads on Srinagar, and on Tuesday thousands of Indian troops fanned across the city and surrounding villages.
“Police in vehicles moved through our locality and from loudspeakers ordered us to stay indoors for two days — as if we were not already caged,” said Imtiyaz Ali, who lives in Srinagar’s old town.
“I saw mobile phones of two of my neighbours taken away by soldiers when they got out to buy bread from a local baker early in the morning,” said one villager by phone from Nazneenpora village.
For locals, the new curfew brought back memories of the weeks-long strict clampdown a year ago.
Then, a total communications blackout was imposed, with phone and internet access cut and tens of thousands of fresh troops moved into the valley — already one of the world’s most militarised regions.
Around 7,000 people were taken into custody — including three former chief ministers. Hundreds remain under house arrest or behind bars to this day, mostly without charge.
The move by Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party has been accompanied by an upsurge in violence that is set to make 2020 the bloodiest year in a decade and has triggered major economic hardship exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.
Many locals are also angry that for the first time, people from outside occupied Kashmir are being granted rights to buy land, fearing that India wants to change the disputed region’s demographic makeup.
Published in Dawn, August 5th, 2020