60 days on, occupied Kashmir remains under siege

The lockdown and communications blackout in occupied Kashmir entered its 61st day on Friday.

Frustration, anger and fear have been growing in occupied Kashmir since August 5, when the Hindu nationalist-led government of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi stripped the region of its semi-autonomous status and imposed a curfew and a communications blackout.

The Indian government deployed thousands of troops to the already heavily militarised region to quell potential dissent. It also cut off internet access, put politicians under house arrest and shut down schools.

Take a look: How India is seeking to portray ‘calm, normalcy’ in locked-down occupied Kashmir

Millions have been left isolated from the world, with concerns raised about lack of medical supplies in the area. The crisis has upended the education of millions of children in the disputed Himalayan region, and many have been caught up in street violence.

Reports from the region also suggest that children — some as young as 14 — have been injured in actions by government forces.

Tourists walk past Indian security forces during curfew like restrictions in occupied Kashmir on Aug 5. — AP
Stranded Indian tourists walk to a railway station during restrictions in IoK on Aug 5. — AP
Indian policemen stand guard in a deserted street during restrictions in occupied Kashmir on Aug 6. — Reuters
Following the move, protests broke out in the occupied region. Several elected representatives as well as journalists and lawyers were arrested or detained.

Read: Explainer: What India’s change to occupied Kashmir’s status means

As of August 8, Indian security forces had arrested more than 500 people.

The same day Prime Minister Imran Khan questioned whether the global community would have the “moral courage” to stop a possible genocide from taking place in Indian-occupied Kashmir. Meanwhile, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the disputed territory was stripped of its autonomy to free it from “terrorism and separatism”.

United Nations chief Antonio Guterres called for India “to refrain from taking steps that could affect the status of Jammu and Kashmir”.

In pictures: Situation uncertain as Kashmir remains incommunicado to the world

A man feeds a child outside a closed shop during the curfew in Srinagar. — AP
Pedestrians move on a deserted street in Srinagar in occupied Kashmir on Aug 9. — AP
As the restrictions continued, journalists were unable to report from the ground and were forced to hand-carry dispatches out of the disputed region.

On August 9, Pakistan formally downgraded its trade relations with India to the level of Israel with which Islamabad has no trade ties at all. It also suspended Samjhauta Express train service between Pakis­tan and India as well as other train and bus services.

Pakistani women react after the departure of their Indian relatives travelling with the Samjhauta Express train, also called the Friendship Express that runs between Delhi and Attari in India and Lahore in Pakistan, at the railway station in Lahore on Aug 8. — AFP
On August 10, for the first time in six days, Indian authorities slightly eased travel restrictions in some parts of Srinagar, and people flooded the streets of the city to buy provisions ahead of Eidul Azha.

Police taking an activist of Jammu and Kashmir Youth Congress into custody during a protest against the Indian government on Aug 10.—AFP
A Kashmiri woman walks past a bus used as a road block by Indian security personnel during restrictions, in Srinagar, Aug 11. — Reuters
Kashmiris walk past a blockade put up by residents to prevent security personnel from sealing off a mosque ground ahead of Eiul Azha prayers during restrictions in Srinagar, August 12. — Reuters
Kashmiris attend a protest after Eidul Azha prayers at a mosque during restrictions in Srinagar, August 12. — Reuters
Take a look: Besieged Kashmiri neighbourhood in test of wills with India’s Modi

When Kashmiris found out that a government official in Srinagar had two working mobile phones with an outside line, desperate citizens from Srinagar and beyond lined up to get two minutes of talk time with their loved ones under the watchful scrutiny of Indian officials.

Read: Call waiting: IHK residents queue for two-minute phone access

Continuing its effort to highlight the Kashmir issue, Pakistan observed Independence Day as ‘Kashmir Solidarity Day’. The next day, on August 15, India’s day of independence was observed as Black Day in Pakistan to protest the ongoing brutalities and human rights abuses in occupied Kashmir.

Simultaneously, thousands of people, many waving Pakistani and Kashmiri flags, protested outside the Indian High Commission in London in support of the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir.

Demonstrators protest against the scrapping of the special constitutional status in Kashmir by the Indian government, outside the Indian High Commission in London, Britain, on Aug 15. — Reuters
Hundreds of protesters clashed with police on Aug 16, as New Delhi claimed it would begin restoring phone lines after the communications blackout entered its 12th day.

As the protests continued, for the first time since 1965, the UN Security Council (UNSC) held a meeting on exclusively on occupied Jammu and Kashmir, nullifying India’s claim that this was an internal matter.

A young boy joins protesters holding aloft placards at a rally against India on Aug 16.—AFP
A Kashmiri woman shows her hands with messages at a protest after Friday prayers during restrictions in Srinagar, August 16. — Reuters
Take a look: A birth and a death amid occupied Kashmir’s harsh lockdown

The next day, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, in a joint press conference with Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) chief Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor, said that the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) had responded positively to Pakistan’s calls to take notice of India’s actions in occupied Kashmir, and has called for an immediate end to the curfew.

On August 18, a mere day after curbs were eased, Srinagar residents found themselves placed under restrictions once more after violent overnight clashes between police and residents which left dozens injured.

According to officials, Indian troops fired tear gas, chilli grenades and pellet guns to disperse protesters, in the Rainawari, Nowhetta, Gojwara and Soura areas of the city.

A Kashmiri boy, who was injured a week prior, holds up an X-Ray showing pellet injuries in his leg, as he recovers at his home in Srinagar, on August 17. — AP
A Kashmiri man carries a child and walks on a road dotted with stones and bricks from earlier protests in Srinagar, August 17. — AP
Mohammad Siddiq, 70, who was wounded a day before recovers inside a hospital in Srinagar on August 18. The elderly Kashmiri man says he was wounded when an Indian police man fired a pellet gun at him while returning home from a mosque, badly damaging his left eye. — AP
That same day, a damning report about the number of people detained in the region came to the fore. A magistrate, speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity, said that at least 4,000 people were arrested and held under the Public Safety Act (PSA), a controversial law that allows authorities to imprison someone for up to two years without charge or trial.

A day later, as tensions continued to mount, Foreign Minister Qureshi challenged Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to hold a public referendum in occupied Kashmir “if he really wants feedback on the popularity of his decision”.

Meanwhile, amid an escalating war of words between Pakistani and Indian leaders, Prime Minister Imran Khan asked the world to worry about Indian nuclear weapons under a “fascist” and “racist” government in Delhi.

Read: Schools deserted in occupied Kashmir as parents fear more unrest

Kashmiris walk outside a closed school in Srinagar on Monday. — AP
On August 19, Trump made calls to both PM Imran and Indian PM, urging a reduction of tension between India and Pakistan over the Kashmir issue.

Arrests in the occupied region with a view to deter protests continued into September with Indian security forces, in one instance, detaining 30 people overnight in Srinagar.

A Kashmiri masked protester stands near a barricade to block the entrance of a neighbourhood in Srinagar, August 19. — Reuters
On August 30, BBC carried a report detailing Kashmiris’ accounts of beatings and torture at the hands of security forces.

Read: ‘Don’t beat us, just shoot us’: Kashmiris allege violent army crackdown

Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) President Sardar Masood expressed concerns over a “full-fledged genocide” underway in the locked down region, saying that reports of many offences were not making it out of the valley.

As teens were swept up in night raids, the US urged India to free detainees and restore rights of Kashmiris.

Pakistan stepped up its efforts to apprise the world of the ongoing human rights violations in the region and the campaign hit a high at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) session in New York on September 27 when the premier delivered a blistering address calling out Modi for his oppression of Kashmiri Muslims.

Turkey and Malaysia also voiced their support for residents of occupied Kashmir at the UNGA.

Prime Minister Imran Khan addresses the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly on Sept 27. — AP
As world leaders issued condemnations, among them was UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet who last month said that she was “deeply concerned” about the situation in the region.

Even so, reports continue to surface of deaths and detentions, painting a grisly picture of what life in the Valley has become for Kashmiris and how the world looks on.

Read: 9-year-old among 144 minors detained in occupied Kashmir

On October 4, dozens of journalists held a sit-in protest against the ongoing communication blackout in the disputed Himalayan region, describing the blockade of the internet and mobile phones as a government-imposed gag.

The journalists, holding placards and wearing black bands, said the government was muzzling the press in the region and demanded that the internet and mobile connectivity be restored.

A joint statement issued by 11 Kashmir-based journalists’ associations read: “How long can the journalists of Valley rely solely on official releases and occasional press briefings that have always been a one-way communication?”

Kashmiri journalists display placards during a protest against the communication blackout in Srinagar, Thursday. — AP
A Kashmiri journalists displays a placard during a protest against the communication blackout in Srinagar, , Thursday. — AP
Currently, the Supreme Court of India is hearing multiples pleas challenging the communication blockade in occupied Kashmir, the illegal detention of children, and the impact of restrictions on healthcare.

So far, however, no order has been passed as petitioners and the people of occupied Kashmir await some relief.

Compiled by Sameen Daud Khan, Sana Ali.