Sunday 25 August 2019

Muslims in India-controlled Kashmir allowed to walk to mosques for Eid festival

There are tensions in the disputed region after India revoked its special status.

Muslim men offer prayers during Eid al-Adha, or the Feast of the Sacrifice, in Jammu, India (Channi Anand/AP)
Muslim men offer prayers during Eid al-Adha, or the Feast of the Sacrifice, in Jammu, India (Channi Anand/AP)

By Aijaz Hussain, Associated Press

Troops in India-administered Kashmir allowed some Muslims to walk to local mosques alone or in pairs to pray for the Eid al-Adha festival during an unprecedented security crackdown that still forced most people in the disputed region to stay indoors on the Islamic holy day.

Some protesters demonstrated against the Indian government’s surprise revocation of Muslim-majority Kashmir’s special status last week.

All communications and the internet remained cut off for an eighth day.

The streets were deserted, with authorities not allowing any large groups to gather to avoid anti-India protests.

India has thrown us into the dark ages, but God is on our side and our resistance will win Habibullah Bhat

“Our hearts are on fire,” said Habibullah Bhat, 75, who said he came to offer prayers despite his failing health.

“India has thrown us into the dark ages, but God is on our side and our resistance will win.”

Hundreds of worshippers gathered on a street in a neighbourhood in Srinagar after the prayers and chanted “We want freedom” and “Go India, Go back”, witnesses said.

Officials said the protest ended peacefully.

Kashmir police said in a tweet that Eid festival prayers “concluded peacefully in various parts of the (Kashmir) Valley. No untoward incident reported so far”.

Independent verification of events in the region was difficult because of the communications shutdown.

ipanews_b1e545e7-9245-431b-afee-9de30daa75a6_embedded244626622
Muslims walk past Indian paramilitary soldiers after offering prayers during Eid al-Adha (Channi Anand/PA)

India’s foreign ministry shared photos of people visiting mosques but did not specify where the photos were taken within the region, which New Delhi downgraded from a state to two federal territories a week ago.

Vijay Keshav Gokhale, the ministry’s top diplomat, said communications restrictions “will be gradually eased when we feel the law and order situation improves”.

He said most mosques were open but some were not for security reasons.

He told reporters there were “no reports of starvation” and that medical facilities, utilities and banking services were functioning normally.

The security crackdown in India’s only Muslim-majority region is expected to last through Thursday, India’s independence day.

The restrictions had been briefly eased for Friday prayers last week and for shopping ahead of Eid.

ipanews_b1e545e7-9245-431b-afee-9de30daa75a6_embedded244610257
Muslim women return after getting fresh henna decorations on their hands on the eve of Eid al Adha, in Jammu, India (Channi Ananad/AP)

Meanwhile, Pakistan foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and opposition leader Bilawal Bhutto Zardari expressed support for people in the Indian-administered portion of Kashmir to have self-determination.

Both visited the Pakistani-controlled portion of Kashmir for Eid.

India and Pakistan have fought two wars over control of Kashmir, and the first one ended in 1948 with a promise of a UN-sponsored referendum in the territory.

It has never been held.

Mr Qureshi urged the international community to take notice of “Indian atrocities and human rights violations in Kashmir”.

He said Islamabad was trying its best to highlight the Kashmir issue internationally and expose Indian “cruelties” in the region.

ipanews_b1e545e7-9245-431b-afee-9de30daa75a6_embedded244626576
An Indian Muslim man walks past Indian paramilitary soldiers (Channi Anand/AP)

Thousands of additional troops were sent to the disputed Himalayan region before India’s Hindu nationalist-led government said last Monday that it was revoking Kashmir’s special constitutional status and downgrading its statehood.

India’s prime minister Narendra Modi said in an address to the nation that the move would free the territory of “terrorism and separatism” and accused Indian arch-rival Pakistan of fomenting unrest.

Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan but claimed in full by both.

Rebels have been fighting Indian rule in the portion it administers for decades.

Restrictions, security crackdowns and information blackouts are nothing new for Kashmiris.

The region witnessed months of clampdowns during massive public uprisings against Indian rule in 2008, 2010 and 2016.

However, this is the first time that landline phones have been cut off, intensifying hardship.

Frequent separatist calls for general strikes and protests are routinely met with security crackdowns.

Kashmiris have learned to figure out ways to survive the hardships of incarceration inside their homes.

Residents are also used to stockpiling essentials, a practice usually undertaken during harsh winter months when roads and communications lines often remain snapped.

Over a million people live in the area under security siege in Srinagar.

Residents have begun to face shortages of food and other necessities as shops remain shuttered and public movement is restricted.

Parents have struggled to entertain their children who are unable to go to school.

Patients have faced shortages of prescription drugs.

Authorities say they have made cash available in ATMs so that residents could take out money to buy essentials for Eid.

PA Media

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Editors Choice

Also in World News