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August 21, 2019

More arrests made in IHK to stop protests

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August 21, 2019

HELD SRINAGAR: Security forces detained 30 people overnight in Indian Held Kashmir (IHK)’s main city of Srinagar, local officials said on Tuesday, seeking to keep a tight lid on protests over the BJP-led Narendra Modi government’s decision to strip the region of its autonomy, a British wire service reported.

Crowds have demonstratedfrequently in the city despite a severe clampdown on phone and internet services, a ban on public gatherings and detentions of hundreds of political leaders and separatists who have long campaigned for secession from India.

Youth have pelted stones at paramilitary police deployed in held Srinagar, and the latest detentions took place in parts of the city where such incidents have occurred, a police officer said.

“These arrests have been made in areas where there has been intensifying stone pelting in the last few days,” the officer said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation. A local government official confirmed the latest detentions.

The withdrawal of the special privileges of Muslim majority Kashmir means residents of all parts of India can buy property and compete for government jobs and college places, raising fears that it will be flooded with outsiders. Reuters visited three schools in Srinagar including Presentation Convent Higher Secondary School and no students had turned up and classes were deserted. “Some teachers reported to duty but left as there were no students”, said an official of the school.

Authorities had ordered schools to reopen on Monday after a two-week closure as a sign of normalcy. Srinagar’s top city official Shahid Choudhary asked schools to ensure resumption of bus services. A driver, however, said it was difficult to operate buses in such a volatile situation. “It is very risky for us and the students,” he said.

AFP adds: Ali Mohammad Rah sat on the pavement outside a police station in Kashmir’s main city of Srinagar on Tuesday, waiting to see his teenage sons, who were swept up in government raids overnight. "Soldiers violently banged windows of our home while we were sleeping," Rah told AFP, saying his sons -- aged 14 and 16 -- were taken away before dawn in the Srinagar neighbourhood of Mehjoor Nagar. "They just barged in and dragged my two sons away."

Government sources say at least 4,000 people have been detained in Kashmir since India revoked the IHK’s autonomy on August 5 and imposed a massive security lockdown on the restive region.

In Nowshera, in an old quarter of the city, residents said several young men were taken away and detained by police on Sunday night. Locals from other neighbourhoods reported similar blitzes.

To try and stop the raids, residents in Srinagar’s Soura area have erected barricades and dug trenches in roads that lead to their cluster of homes. Sitting outside the police station alongside Rah on Tuesday were dozens of other locals who said their relatives were also in custody -- among them 21 boys from the most recent night raid. They say soldiers used ladders to scale the walls of their compounds.

Widow Rozi, who only gave one name, said a gun was put to her head and she was told to "keep quiet" by soldiers as they led her 20-year-old son Suhail Mohiuddin from the house. Another woman, Mubeena, said a soldier "sprayed something on my face" when her brother was seized.

"I fell down in pain and couldn’t see for a while. When I gathered myself my brother had already been taken away," she told AFP. Nearby, Ulfat cradled her one-month-old son as she waited to find out about her breadwinner husband Mushtaq Ahmad, who she said was taken away by police.

"I don’t have money to buy medicines for myself and other things for my baby," she told AFP. Officials at the station did not respond to a request for comment. Authorities have declined to speak on the numbers of people behind bars. Those picked up include local politicians, activists, business leaders and lawyers.

In a tiny building in a cramped narrow lane in Srinagar, Mohammad Saleem and his family feel cut off from the world and trapped in their home as an Indian military lockdown enters its third week.

"I can’t study, connect with any of my friends and can’t even go out because of all these restrictions," Saleem’s 13-year-old son Shayan told AFP. "I really miss going to school. We used to play a lot there. We have been sitting at one place now, what do we do here?"

Father-of-three Saleem said his younger daughter moved to live with her grandmother as she was "feeling caged", pointing to a small hall in the first floor of his home where the family have spent most of their time.

"It has become really difficult to live like this," Showkat, whose dyeing factory has been shut amid the lockdown, told AFP in the residential district of Nowshera. "I don’t know how much longer this will continue. What else can we do now but ask them (children) to not leave their home and just study or keep themselves busy."

For Saleem, the outbreaks of violence also trigger another fear -- that he’ll be mistaken as a protester and locked up by the authorities amid a sweeping crackdown. His home is next to Srinagar’s main mosque Jama Masjid, where protests regularly break out. While authorities have kept the mosque shut since the start of August, they also view this old part of the city as a hotbed of dissent.

Meanwhile the family’s food rations are almost depleted and Saleem, a door-to-door women’s clothing salesman who lives almost hand-to-mouth, hopes to feed his family by borrowing money. His daughter Iram is in her first year of college and has dreams of becoming a teacher.

"I can’t study because the internet is down... I can’t go anywhere. Where do I go? What do I do now?," Iram told AFP: "Everyone’s future is getting destroyed. The young here live in fear. "The moment you go out -- you have stone pelting, tear gas, curfew... there is everything. I feel that there isn’t as much injustice anywhere in the world than there is for the children in Kashmir."

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