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Thursday, Aug 22, 2019

Sombre Eid in Kashmir as curbs fuel discontent

Exactly a week after the Indian government stripped Jammu & Kashmir of special status, the restive region marked a muted Eid al-Adha on Monday, with an unprecedented lockdown keeping a lid on tensions in the Valley.

india Updated: Aug 13, 2019 05:29 IST
Rahul Singh and Dhrubo Jyoti
Rahul Singh and Dhrubo Jyoti
Hindustan Times, Srinagar
Kashmiri Muslims participate in Eid prayers outside a mosque in Srinagar, Kashmir.
Kashmiri Muslims participate in Eid prayers outside a mosque in Srinagar, Kashmir.(AP photo)
         

Exactly a week after the Indian government stripped Jammu & Kashmir of special status, the restive region marked a muted Eid al-Adha on Monday, with an unprecedented lockdown keeping a lid on tensions in the Valley.

Residents in the capital city of Srinagar filed into neighbourhood mosques by 7.30am to celebrate Kashmir’s biggest festival as security personnel kept watch at major thoroughfares and communication lines remained suspended for an eighth straight day.

“I am celebrating Eid because of my kids but how can I be happy when our identity has been snatched?” said Aftab Riyaz.

Large congregations were not allowed and the old city area, home to at least a third of the city’s 1.2 million people, was locked down with reinforced vehicles, coils of barbed wire and armed personnel guarding major roads in and out of the neighbourhoods. The otherwise bustling Lal Chowk was cordoned off with barricades and concertina wires.

Photographs showed people offering prayers inside mosques in the city. In some areas, stone pelting and protests were reported but a Union home ministry statement dismissed them as “isolated” and “insignificant”.

Also read | Extremely peaceful and relaxed Eid, says Jammu and Kashmir official

“Eid namaz was offered at different mosques. After prayers congregators dispersed peacefully…police is effectively maintaining peace and order in the Valley,” said inspector general of police SP Pani. The state department of information said in a statement that “large prayer congregations” were seen in Bandipora, Baramulla, Kupwara, Sopore, Kulgam and Shopian.

“Today, namaz was offered by the people in every mosque. Namaz took place in every locality,” said governor Satya Pal Malik .

Discontent has simmered in Kashmir since the early hours of August 5, when phone and Internet lines were suspended and restrictions on movement and assembly of people clamped. Later that day, the government moved to nullify Article 370, which accorded special status to Jammu & Kashmir, and bifurcate the state into two Union Territories – J&K with a legislative assembly, and Ladakh without one.

Even when curbs were relaxed over the weekend, local residents said their enthusiasm had ebbed, and traders in Srinagar reported major losses.

Watch | Eid in the time of lockdown in the Valley 

“I picked up cake and some cookies for my kids as a token celebration of Eid. We can’t pretend to be happy when our hearts are broken,” said Mohammad Ashraf, a medical representative who lives near Srinagar’s Residency Road, on Saturday.

The subdued Eid especially hurt traders such as Maqbool Khan who travelled from Rajasthan with a truck full of sheep for the festival.

“Last year, I sold all the sheep I brought from Bikaner in just two days. That response encouraged me to invest more. This time I brought animals worth ₹40 lakh but haven’t sold any.

Very little information has trickled out of the Downtown area of Srinagar, known to be a hub of pro-“Azaadi” protests and home to the 15th-century Jamia Masjid.

On Friday, local residents reported protests in the old city neighbourhood of Soura after ritual morning prayers with a thousands-strong crowd shouting slogans and waving flags.The government played down the reported demonstration.

Since then, rumours have swirled that security forces fired shots at the crowd, resulting in injuries – an assertion repeatedly denied by the administration. “Not a single bullet was fired,” said Pani.

He admitted that there had been a “couple of injuries” but refused to give details, and added that no medico-legal case had been registered. “We will not allow any mischievous elements to disrupt the peace,” said principal secretary Rohit Kansal.

The clampdown has muzzled life in Kashmir with many locals calling the communications blackout as an insult and a violation of citizenship rights.

For the first three days of the curfew-like restrictions, most roads and shops were shut. People would step out of their neighbourhoods only after sundown, when security deployment would thin, and street corners after dark sported clots of young men and women, some of them on bikes, playing suddenly popular games like snakes and ladders on their mobile phones.

Also read | ‘Had no doubts about scrapping Article 370 or its impact’: Amit Shah

Snaking queues outside ATMs were the new social spots as friends and neighbours shared scraps of information gleaned from television broadcasts and sometimes from strangers passing through. Some local English and Urdu newspapers continue to bring out editions but their distribution is severely hobbled, and editors admit that most content on the slim four or six-page editions are copied from television broadcasts. “We are operating in emergency conditions,” said Zahdoor Hashmi, chief editor of the Urdu newspaper, Daily Aftab.

Even when traffic movement swelled on the weekend and many people rushed to markets and shops for last-minute Eid shopping, the mood was far from festive – especially in the districts of southern Kashmir where many residents were unsparing in their criticism of Indian and mainstream Kashmiri politicians alike.

“We have nothing left to celebrate. Article 370 was our pride that has been snatched by the government,” said 40-year-old Shiraz Ahmed, a garment trader in Bijbehara, as others gathered around him insisted that the move will spur on militancy.

The move is being seen as immoral, if not illegal. For Kashmiris, it is a breach of faith,” said Srinagar-based political commentator Altaf Hussain.

(with inputs from agencies)

First Published: Aug 12, 2019 23:52 IST

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