Kashmiris have faced an unprecedented clampdown since Aug. 5, when India announced it would revoke the region’s autonomy, undoing seven decades of policy toward the country’s only Muslim-majority state. On Friday, the U.N. Security Council convened to discuss India’s move but did not issue a statement on the withdrawal of Kashmir’s special status.
On Monday, President Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a 30-minute phone call in which they discussed “regional and bilateral matters” with “warmth and cordiality,” according to a statement from India’s Foreign Ministry.
The statement did not mention Kashmir by name. But it said that Modi had spoken to Trump about the “extreme rhetoric” of certain leaders in the region — a reference to Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, who has issued harsh critiques of India’s move in Kashmir and recently called Modi’s government “fascist.”
India has said the restrictions on movement and communications and the detentions of political leaders in Kashmir are necessary to prevent violence. The curbs were put in place so “the right-thinking citizen can live to rejoice” in the government’s decision, Jitendra Singh, a minister and member of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, said in a recent interview.
Spoke to my two good friends, Prime Minister Modi of India, and Prime Minister Khan of Pakistan, regarding Trade, Strategic Partnerships and, most importantly, for India and Pakistan to work towards reducing tensions in Kashmir. A tough situation, but good conversations!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 19, 2019
It is not clear how long the clampdown will last. In 2016, Internet access was blocked for several months when deadly protests swept Kashmir after security forces killed Burhan Wani, a militant who had gained a following among Kashmiri youths. Kashmir, which is claimed by both India and Pakistan, is home to a long-running anti-India insurgency.
A top local bureaucrat had pledged Friday that within days, life in Jammu and Kashmir, as the region is officially known, “would become completely normal.” But there was little sign of that Monday: Schools in Srinagar were locked or had only teachers — not students — show up. While steel barricades and barbed wire were removed from some intersections, many neighborhood roads remained blocked to traffic and storefronts were shuttered.
In the Kashmir Valley, residents expressed fury and anxiety at the removal of the state’s special status. A major protest involving thousands of people took place Aug. 9, defying official prohibitions on public gatherings.
A number of other protests have also unfolded in recent days, according to media reports, with protesters throwing stones at security forces, which have responded with tear gas and pellet guns. On Saturday, at least five people were seriously injured and one older man died after inhaling tear gas, Reuters reported .
“Things are limping back to normal,” said Munir Khan, a senior police official in Srinagar, although the prohibition on public gatherings was still in force. The detentions of political leaders are a “preventive” measure, he said, and authorities would decide on their release “when things get better.”
All of the state’s most prominent politicians have been detained, including two former chief ministers, Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah. Shah Faesal, a bureaucrat who recently formed his own political party, was reportedly detained in New Delhi before traveling abroad and taken back to Kashmir.
A fact-finding team of three well-known activists and an academic that traveled to Kashmir last week said that in Srinagar and nearby villages, hundreds of boys and teenagers had been picked up by security forces and held in detention. They met an 11-year-old boy who said that he was held in a police station from Aug. 5 to 11 and that children younger than him were also in custody.
On Monday, many parents in Srinagar kept their children home from schools. Mustafa Parray, 40, who runs a medical clinic, said he did not send his child to kindergarten.
“The people are seething with anger,” he said. Kashmiris “have lost their identity, and we will be deprived of our land and jobs.” The removal of the special status also invalidated restrictions on nonresidents buying land in Kashmir.
Arusha Farooq, a college professor in Delhi, said she had been trying the landline number of her family’s home in Srinagar since Friday with no success. “This is mental harassment, nothing else,” Farooq said. She had decided to return home next week to check on her elderly grandparents in person. “I have to go to make sure they are all right,” she said.
Ishfaq Naseem in Srinagar contributed to this report.