Monday December 11, 2023

Occupied Kashmir a living hell: New York Times' first report out of lockdown state

"On the streets of Srinagar, Kashmir’s biggest city, security officers tied black bandannas over their faces, grabbed their guns and took positions behind checkpoints," the Times said in a dispatch from Srinagar.

August 12, 2019

NEW YORK: In its first dispatch after India's clampdown on Occupied Kashmir, The New York Times said the restive state, which is cut off from the world, had become a "living hell" for people languishing in their homes amid tight curfew.

"On the streets of Srinagar, Kashmir’s biggest city, security officers tied black bandannas over their faces, grabbed their guns and took positions behind checkpoints," the Times said in a dispatch from Srinagar.

"People glanced out the windows of their homes, afraid to step outside.

Many were cutting back on meals and getting hungry.

"The dispatch by a team of the Times reporters said, "A sense of coiled menace hung over the locked-down city and the wider region on Saturday, a day after a huge protest erupted into clashes between Kashmiris and Indian security forces.

Shops were shut. A.T.Ms had run dry.

Just about all lines to the outside world — internet, mobile phones, even landlines — remained severed, rendering millions of people incommunicado.

"Correspondents for The New York Times got one of the first inside views of life under lockdown in Kashmir and found a population that felt besieged, confused, frightened and furious by the seismic events of this week.

People who ventured out said they had to beg officers to cross a landscape of sandbags, battered trucks and soldiers staring at them through metal face masks.

Several residents said they had been beaten up by security forces for simply trying to buy necessities like milk.

"India’s swift and unilateral decision Monday to wipe out Kashmir’s autonomy significantly raised tensions with its archrival, Pakistan, which also claims parts of Kashmir.

The territory lying between the two nuclear armed nations was already one of Asia’s most dangerous and militarized flash points, smoldering for decades.

"Anything dramatic or provocative that happens here — and India’s move was widely seen as both — instantly sends a jolt of anxiety across this entire region.

"On Friday afternoon, witnesses said tens of thousands of peaceful demonstrators were moving through the streets of Srinagar, chanting freedom slogans and waving Kashmiri flags, when Indian forces opened fire.

"The huge crowd panicked and scattered.

Sustained bursts of automatic weapon fire could be heard in videos filmed during the protest, and at least seven people were wounded, hospital officials said, some sprayed by buckshot in the eyes.

"Afshana Farooq, a 14-year-old girl, was nearly trampled in the stampede.

"We were just marching peacefully after prayers,'' said her father, Farooq Ahmed, standing over her as she lay shaking in a Srinagar hospital bed.

"Then they started shooting at us." 

"India has put Kashmir, home to about eight million people, in a tightening vise, after India’s Hindu nationalist prime minister, Narendra Modi, swept away the autonomy that this mountainous, Muslim-majority region had enjoyed for decades.

"His decision was years in the making, the collision of India’s rising nationalist politics, frustration with Kashmir’s dogged separatists and a long-running rivalry with Pakistan.

"For the past three decades, the Kashmir Valley, part of the region controlled by India, has been a conflict zone, a restive area chafing for independence.

"Many Kashmiris see India as an oppressive and foreign ruler.

They resent all the changes over the years that have diluted what was supposed to be an autonomous arrangement for Kashmir, settled in 1947, when the region’s maharajah agreed to join India with guarantees of some self-rule.

"No one disputes that Kashmir needed change.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed here and the economy lies in ruins.

"Modi has said the new status will make Kashmir more peaceful and prosperous.

In a televised speech on Thursday, which most Kashmiris could not watch because their television service had also been cut, he insisted that turning Kashmir into a federal territory would eliminate corruption, attract investment and move it ''forward with new hopes.

"In the valley, nearly all of about 50 Kashmiris interviewed said they expected India’s actions to increase the sense of alienation and in turn feed the rebellion.

"Elders in several rural areas reported that dozens of young men had already disappeared from their communities, often a telltale sign of joining the insurgency.

"Officials in New Delhi circulated photos on Saturday that showed open fruit markets and crowded streets, saying the valley was returning to normal.

But security personnel in Kashmir said large protests kept erupting, including on Saturday.

"At any point day or night," said Ravi Kant, a soldier based in the town of Baramulla, ''whenever they get a chance, mobs of a dozen, two dozen, even more, sometimes with a lot of women, come out, pelt stones at us and run away.

"People are so angry,” he added. "They are unrelenting and not scared.

"Tens of thousands of troops from the Indian Army, the Central Reserve Police Force (a paramilitary unit) and the Kashmiri State police have been deployed in just about every corner of the valley.

In some villages, even remote ones, a soldier was posted outside the gate of each family’s home.

The difficulties of negotiating such a tight security cordon are compounding the stress.

Shamima Bano, a middle-aged mother, broke into tears the instant she heard her son’s voice over the phone.

"Are you alive?" she cried.

"For hours, she had waited in a line of 400 people to use the one phone that the authorities opened, at a government office in her neighborhood.

Her college-age son was in the Indian city of Mumbai, about to go into surgery," she said.

The lockdown’s effects are visible everywhere. Schools have been closed. Parks are deserted. Baby food is running out.

In many areas, residents needed to produce a curfew pass to leave their homes, even for medical emergencies.

At the Lala Ded hospital, sick people had traveled more than a day to get here, only to find a skeleton crew.

Many doctors couldn’t get to work.

Many patients were curled up on the floor.

"It’s a living hell here," said Jamila, a doctor who goes by one name.

Kashmiris said of all the crackdowns they have lived through, this was the worst.

A spokeswoman for India’s home ministry said Saturday she would answer questions about the complaints but had yet to provide a response.