Uneasy calm in Indian Kashmir on Islamic festival day

Security forces patrolling in Srinagar, India, on Aug 10, 2019.
Security forces patrolling in Srinagar, India, on Aug 10, 2019.PHOTO: NYTIMES

NEW DELHI (AP) - An uneasy calm prevailed in Indian-administered Kashmir on Monday (Aug 12) as people celebrated a major Islamic festival during an unprecedented crackdown after India moved to strip the disputed region of its constitutional autonomy and imposed an indefinite curfew.

Troops allowed Muslims to walk to local mosques alone or in pairs and pray for the Eid al-Adha festival although streets were deserted, with authorities not allowing any large congregations to avoid anti-India protests.

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

"Our hearts are on fire," said Mr Habibullah Bhat, 75, who said he came to offer prayers despite his failing health. "India has thrown us into dark ages, but God is on our side and our resistance will win."

Hundreds of worshippers hit a street in a neighborhood in Srinagar after the prayers and chanted: "We want freedom" and "Go India, Go back," eyewitnesses said. Officials said the protest ended peacefully.

A tweet earlier by Kashmir police said Eid festival prayers "concluded peacefully in various parts of the (Kashmir) Valley. No untoward incident reported so far."

The communications shutdown meant independent verification of events in the region was limited.

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

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

The restrictions had been briefly eased on Friday for residents to attend mosque prayers, and people also were allowed to shop for the Eid festival on Saturday and Sunday.

Magistrate Shahid Choudhary tweeted late Sunday that he held a meeting with religious leaders for prayer arrangements and visited several venues.

Also Sunday, as people were shopping in Srinagar, the main city in Indian-controlled Kashmir, the New Delhi Television News channel showed video of jeeps fitted with loudspeakers moving in the region after lunchtime, telling people to return to their homes and shopkeepers to shut markets.

NDTV said the move may have been prompted by sporadic clashes that took place in Srinagar after the restrictions were relaxed on Saturday.

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.

 
 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in an address to the nation that the move would free the territory of "terrorism and separatism" and accused India's archrival Pakistan of fomenting unrest.

Kashmir is claimed in full by both nations and divided between them, and rebels have been fighting Indian rule in the portion it administers for decades.