Saturday 24 August 2019

Kashmiris warn of backlash over loss of state's special status

Narendra Modi. Photo: Victoria Jones/PA
Narendra Modi. Photo: Victoria Jones/PA

Deviyot Ghoshal

The people of Kashmir yesterday voiced their anger at India's decision to revoke its special status - as strict curbs on their movement were eased to permit Friday prayers to go ahead.

Seeking to tighten its grip on the region also claimed by Pakistan, India this week scrapped the Muslim-majority state's right to frame its own laws and allowed non-residents to buy property there.

Since Sunday, telecoms links have been suspended, at least 300 leaders detained and public gatherings banned, effectively confining residents to their homes.

Television images yesterday showed dozens of people walking on the streets of Srinagar, the main city, for the first time this week to offer prayers at mosques guarded by police.

"Every time we have embraced India, they have cut our throats," read a handwritten poster at one mosque, which urged Kashmiris not to sell land and to hold protests after Eid prayers on Monday.

Leaders in Kashmir had warned scrapping the special status would be seen as an act of aggression against the people of the Himalayan state, where more than 50,000 people have died in a 30-year revolt against Indian rule.

There have been no major protests, except some sporadic instances of stone-throwing in the last few days.

But several residents and a police official told Reuters that resentment against the decision was building.

"There is a lull right now ... the situation can go out of control," said the police official, who declined to be named.

In New Delhi, foreign ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar insisted Kashmir was calm and the inconvenience expressed by its people was "very temporary".

He told Reuters: "Just outside Srinagar things have really come back to normal. People are going about their business. If we are confident of maintaining law and order, I think those restrictions will be relaxed, I'm quite sure."

But in a narrow alley behind the Srinagar mosque, 32-year-old Tariq Ahmed warned of a backlash against India once it relaxed the curbs on movement in the city.

"If they have used force on unarmed Kashmiris, we will also react with force," said Mr Ahmed, a university worker.

"We have no faith in the Indian government."

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a speech on Thursday that his decision will benefit Kashmiris.

Some in Kashmir do not agree.

"They are thinking that they will be able to keep people suppressed," said Owais (29), a government employee who gave only his first name. "This strategy will backfire."

Irish Independent

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