Shops shuttered, streets deserted as Kashmir loses special status and is divided

Published October 31, 2019, 3:46 PM

by Gabriela Baron & Minka Klaudia Tiangco

By Reuters

SRINAGAR, India – Shops and offices were shut in Indian Kashmir on Thursday and the streets largely deserted as federal authorities formally revoked the restive state’s constitutional autonomy and split it into two federal territories.

An Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) officer stands guard on a road in Srinagar October 31, 2019. (REUTERS/Danish Ismail/MANILA BULLETIN)
An Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) officer stands guard on a road in Srinagar October 31, 2019. (REUTERS/Danish Ismail/MANILA BULLETIN)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision in August to change Kashmir’s status and tighten its grip over a region also claimed by Pakistan has stoked anger and resentment while a three-decade armed revolt rages.

Just after midnight on Wednesday, the federal government’s orders went into effect, dividing up the old state of Jammu and Kashmir into two union territories – one Jammu and Kashmir, and the other the Buddhist-dominated high altitude region of Ladakh.

Both will be directly ruled by Delhi, and new lieutenant governors were due to be sworn in at a high-security governor’s premises later on Thursday.

“The unfulfilled dream of integrating Jammu and Kashmir has been accomplished,” said Home Minister Amit Shah, who is leading the political strategy to deal with Kashmir.

India is hoping that by opening up property rights in Kashmir to people from outside the region it can reignite economic growth, create jobs and turn the focus away from the militancy in which more than 40,000 people have died.

It blames Pakistan for keeping the revolt alive, allegations that the nuclear-armed neighbor denies.

On Thursday, there was little traffic on the streets of Srinagar, the main city, except for children going to school to complete hastily arranged exams. Many children have been kept out of school since the August clampdown.

Shops were shut as a mark of opposition against Kashmir’s new status.

Authorities deployed additional paramilitary forces in parts of Srinagar where small protests have erupted in the past since the August 5 announcement of the change of status.

Still, there were 20 small incidents of stone-pelting reported from Srinagar and other parts of the Kashmir valley on Wednesday, a state police official said.

Former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, one of scores of politicians in detention to prevent large protests from breaking out, said the federal government must engage with Kashmiris before they become even more alienated.

“GOI (government of India) has left Kashmiris in the lurch & shown disregard for their rights. But if you consider them as your own, reach out & engage with them before it’s too late,” she said in a Twitter post which is being handled by her daughter Iltija.