Thousands detained in Kashmir to contain unrest after India strips it of special status
Thousands of people, mostly young male protesters, have been arrested and detained in Indian-administered Kashmir during an ongoing communications blackout and security lockdown imposed more than two weeks ago in an attempt to curtail unrest after a change to Kashmir’s decades-old special status, according to high-ranking Kashmir police officials and police arrest statistics reviewed by The Associated Press.
At least 2,300 people have been detained in the Himalayan valley, the statistics show. Those arrested include anti-India protesters as well as pro-India Kashmiri leaders who have been held in jails and other makeshift holding facilities, according to the police officials, who have access to all police records but spoke on the condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to talk to reporters and feared reprisals from their superiors.
Crowds have demonstrated frequently in the Kashmiri city of Srinagar 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.
Kashmiris have staged near-daily protests since the Aug. 5 order revoking Kashmir’s special status, which has been in place since shortly after India achieved independence from Britain in 1947.
‘Intensifying stone pelting’
Youth have pelted stones at paramilitary police deployed in 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 the 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.
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.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s surprise move has also increased tensions with Pakistan which also lays claim to Kashmir and has accused India of human rights violations in the territory at the heart of more than 70 years of hostility between them.
U.S. President Donald Trump spoke to Modi and Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan on Monday, urging them to reduce tensions over Kashmir. “A tough situation, but good conversations!” Trump said in a Twitter post after the calls.
Authorities in Indian-administered Kashmir on Monday said the protests were local and small in nature involving no more than a dozen people. Still, primary schools remained deserted on Tuesday as they were the previous day, as parents worried about the safety of their children kept them at home.
Reuters visited three schools in Srinagar including Presentation Convent Higher Secondary School and no students had turned up and classes were deserted.
Mass arrests in Srinagar
One of the officers said most of the arrests have been in Srinagar, Kashmir’s main city and the urban heart of a 30-year-old movement to oust Hindu-majority India from Muslim-majority Kashmir so that it can exist independently or be merged with Pakistan.
Nearly 100 people have been arrested under the Public Safety Act, the arrest statistics showed. That law permits detaining people for up to two years without trial.
At least 70 civilians and 20 police and soldiers have been treated for injuries sustained in the clashes at three hospitals in Srinagar, the officers said.
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.
Kashmir has been under lockdown and seen mass arrests before.
The problems in the region stem from partition, which left India in control of most of Kashmir, and Pakistan and China in charge of other parts of the territory. The Indian government has often tried to suppress uprisings, including a bloody armed rebellion in 1989. About 70,000 people have been killed since that uprising and a subsequent Indian military crackdown.