Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi hailed his government’s recent constitutional reform that stripped Kashmir of its statehood in a speech Thursday to mark India’s Independence Day. He said the change will bring prosperity and equality to the area.
“It is our duty to fulfill the hopes and wishes of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. It is our responsibility to give their dreams new wings,” he said at the Red Fort in New Delhi.
But as India’s leader spoke, Jammu and Kashmir’s 7 million people were in their 11th day of a communication blockade, with phone, Internet and cable TV services cut.
Earlier this month, India’s Hindu nationalist government took the extraordinary step of revoking Kashmir’s special status with some autonomy from India, by repealing the constitution’s Article 370. Jammu and Kashmir state was also split into two federal territories.
Kashmir, a Muslim-majority Himalayan valley with sizable Hindu and Buddhist minorities, has long been a point of conflict between Pakistan and India, which both claim Kashmir in its entirety. (China also has claimed a small part of the territory.)
Prime Minister Modi said the move will help ensure rights for women and other cultural minorities, and vowed to restore Kashmir’s “past glory.”
The Indian government has deployed security forces in Kashmir. Roads are lined with barbed wire, as Indian army personnel line the roads, streets and alleys. The authorities have effectively enforced a curfew throughout the region.
The clampdown in Kashmir has thrown daily life into disarray. People have not been able to call anyone and access to medical services is difficult. Schools and offices remain shut. With no communication, journalists are finding it hard to report and have to fly out of Kashmir to send in their stories.
About 1,300 people have been detained, including 350 political leaders, Britain’s The Independent reported on Wednesday, citing police.
In the last 10 days, thousands have come out in protests against the constitutional move and the lockdown. The government denied using firearms but later acknowledged shooting pellet guns to disperse protesters.
Four prominent human rights activists from New Delhi recently made a five-day visit to Kashmir. They described an excessive military presence on the ground. “Everything is being done under the shadow of military and paramilitary presence there. There are no avenues to protest peacefully,” said one of the activists, Kavita Krishnan, a leader of a women’s rights group.
A report released Wednesday by the team says, “Anger and fear were the dominant emotions we encountered everywhere.” They also reported people being scared to speak on camera as the activists made videos of the scene, for “fear of persecution from the government.”
Independence Day celebrations on Thursday in the city of Srinagar, Kashmir, took place under heavy security, as the governor hoisted the Indian flag.
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan criticized the Indian government’s measures in Kashmir in a series of tweets on Thursday. Khan accused the Indian leader of “ethnic cleansing of Muslims” in the western Indian state of Gujarat in 2002, and he warned of the potential for “another Srebrenica-type massacre” — referring to the killing of thousands of Bosnian Muslims in 1995 — on the Indian side of Kashmir.
The United Nations Security Council reportedly plans to discuss Kashmir behind closed doors on Friday, following requests from Pakistan and China.