Schools, telephone lines to be opened in Kashmir after lockdown

An Indian security force personnel keeps guard alongside a road during restrictions after the government scrapped the special constitutional status for Kashmir, in Srinagar August 15, 2019. REUTERS/Danish Ismail

SRINAGAR, India (Reuters) – Authorities will begin restoring some telephone lines in Kashmir from Friday night, including in the main city of Srinagar where afternoon prayers went peacefully amid heavy security, the top state official said.

Telephone and internet links were cut and public assembly banned in Kashmir just before New Delhi removed the decades-old autonomy the Muslim majority territory enjoyed under the Indian constitution. The measures were aimed at preventing protests.

“You will find a lot of Srinagar functioning tomorrow morning,” Jammu and Kashmir Chief Secretary B.V.R. Subrahmanyam told reporters.

“Over the weekend, you’ll have most of these lines functional,” he said, responding to a question about landlines.

He did not say when internet and mobile phone services would be restored, adding that militant groups could use the latter to organise “terror actions”.

India has battled a 30-year revolt in Jammu and Kashmir in which at least 50,000 people have been killed. Critics say the decision to revoke the region’s autonomy will cause further alienation and fuel the armed resistance.

Security forces were deployed outside mosques across Srinagar on Friday, while police vans fitted with speakers asked people not to venture out, according to two Reuters witnesses.

In some parts of the city, posters appeared calling for protests and asking preachers in mosques to talk about the current situation in Kashmir valley.

“People must try to occupy the streets defying curfew,” one poster read.

The lockdown of the Kashmir valley, home to nearly seven million people, has drawn widespread criticism but the government does seem to have succeeded in isolating any protests.

Subrahmanyam said that the immediate reports from Friday prayers were that they had gone off quite peacefully in the state. He also stressed that in the 12 days since the announcement there has not been a single loss of life.

There were some fresh protests in Soura, a tightly-packed northern Srinagar neighborhood, after prayers on Friday.

But unlike a demonstration that pulled in many people from surrounding areas a week ago and grew to involve 10,000 people, according to local police, these protests were much smaller with only hundreds participating. They were also confined to Soura’s narrow lanes and didn’t spill out onto major roads.

Men carried posters that called for reinstating Article 370, the constitutional provision that India revoked. A group of women marching separately chanted: “We nurtured this Kashmir with our blood, this Kashmir is ours.”

Separately, hundreds of people came out to protest in the Mehjoor Nagar area of southern Srinagar following Friday prayers at a mosque. They shouted anti-India and pro-freedom slogans.

Paramilitary troops intercepted them at Mehjoor Nagar bridge, leading to violent clashes and stone-throwing by some of the protestors, according to a Reuters eyewitness.

Subrahmanyam said 12 of 22 districts in Jammu and Kashmir were functioning normally, with night time restrictions in five of the 12.

In the Kashmir valley, Subrahmanyam said schools would open after the weekend, and restrictions on movement would be lifted after a review of each area.

“It is expected that over the next few days, as the restrictions get eased, life in Jammu and Kashmir will become completely normal,” he said.

DETAINED

Hundreds of political leaders and activists remain in detention, some of them in prisons outside Jammu and Kashmir.

At least 52 politicians, most of them belonging to the National Conference and Peoples Democratic Party regional parties, are being held at a hotel on the banks of Srinagar’s Dal lake.

A senior government official said authorities had booked 58 rooms in the hotel. “These leaders are locked inside the hotel rooms but are allowed to meet at dinner and lunch only in a dining hall,” the official said, who declined to be identified.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has said the revocation of Kashmir’s special status was necessary to ensure its full integration into India and speed up development.

The move has raised tensions on the heavily militarized border between India and Pakistan in Kashmir, where Islamabad said three of its soldiers were killed in cross-border firing.

Pakistan summoned India’s deputy high commissioner in Islamabad to condemn what it said were “unprovoked ceasefire violations”.

India has accused Pakistan of violating the ceasefire.

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