India corralled politicians in their homes and bolstered security on the streets of Kashmir’s main city of Srinagar on Wednesday to prevent violent protests on the anniversary of the government’s revocation of the Himalayan region’s autonomy.
Police have been told to ensure that no political leader be allowed to leave their homes, officials and politicians said, and residents out in Srinagar were turned back by police vans fitted with loud-speakers.
The government stripped Jammu and Kashmir, its only Muslim-majority state, of its special rights last August and divided it into two federally administered territories in an attempt by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to draw the region closer to the rest of the country and spur its development.
Kashmir is claimed in full by both India and Pakistan, which have gone to war twice over it, and both rule parts of it. India’s portion, which had enjoyed autonomy for decades, has been plagued by separatist violence since the late 1980s.
The change in status in the Indian part, which most Kashmiris objected to, was accompanied by a communications blackout, widespread restrictions and mass detentions, including of elected leaders.
Most of those measures have been eased, although internet speeds are still restricted. More recently, many families have been confined indoors because of coronavirus lockdowns.
Authorities imposed a two-day curfew in Srinagar this week, citing intelligence tip-offs about possible violent protests. But the curfew was lifted late on Tuesday, after the city administration said there had been no major incidents.
Still, troops flooded the city’s streets early on Wednesday, with barbed wire and road-blocks put up to restrict public movements.
“There is total curtailment on our movement. We were verbally conveyed by the security department of police that there will be no movement,” said Ghulam Ahmad Mir, president of the Kashmir wing of the main opposition Congress party.
“There are barricades and all roads are blocked.”
Gupkar Road, a tree-lined avenue that is home to several politicians, was sealed off, and police and paramilitary men were stationed outside the home of Farooq Abdullah, a former state chief minister.
Modi’s promise to rapidly develop the region has yet to materialise, partly because of the coronavirus, while resentment of the change in status simmers, particularly in the Kashmir Valley, the region’s cultural and commercial heartland.
“Forget about development and creating new employment opportunities, thousands of daily-wagers, casual labourers, scheme workers and others have been denied wages for months,” former leftist lawmaker Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami said.
Kashmir’s change of status was also condemned by India’s old rival Pakistan, which has called for protests in solidarity with the Kashmiri people to mark the anniversary.