India bans communal Eid celebrations as Kashmir crackdown continues

India bans communal Eid celebrations as Kashmir crackdown continues
Indian troops clamped tight restrictions on mosques across Kashmir for Eid on Monday, fearing anti-government protests over the stripping of the Muslim-majority region's autonomy.
4 min read
12 August, 2019
Indian troops guard closed shops ahead of Eid al-Adha prayers in Jammu [AFP/Getty]
Troops in India-administered Kashmir forced Muslims to walk to local mosques alone or in pairs for Eid al-Adha on Monday during an unprecedented security lockdown that still forced most people in the disputed region to stay indoors on the Islamic holy day.

Some protesters demonstrated against the Indian government's surprise revocation of Kashmir's special status last week. All communications and the internet remained cut off for an eighth day as the Hindu nationalist government in New Delhi seeks to snuff out opposition to its move to impose tighter central control over the region.

Tens of thousands of troop reinforcements have flooded the main city of Srinagar and other Kashmir Valley towns and villages. Streets across Kashmir were deserted, with authorities not allowing any large congregations to avoid anti-India protests.

"Our hearts are on fire," said Habibullah Bhat, 75, who said he came to offer prayers despite his failing health. "India has thrown us into dark ages, but God is on our side and our resistance will win."

Hundreds of worshippers hit a street in a neighborhood in Srinagar after the prayers and chanted: "We want freedom" and "Go India, Go back," eyewitnesses said. Officials said the protest ended peacefully.

A tweet earlier by Kashmir police said Eid festival prayers "concluded peacefully in various parts of the (Kashmir) Valley. No untoward incident reported so far." The communications shutdown meant independent verification of events in the region was limited.

India's foreign ministry shared photos of people visiting mosques but didn't specify where the photos were taken within Jammu and Kashmir, which New Delhi downgraded from a state to two federal territories a week ago.

The Himalayan region's biggest mosque, the Jama Masjid, was ordered closed ahead of Eid and people were only allowed to pray in smaller local mosques so that no big crowds could gather, witnesses said.

The security lockdown in India's only Muslim-majority region is expected to last through Thursday - India's independence day. The restrictions had been briefly eased for Friday prayers last week and for shopping ahead of Eid.

In-depth: Kashmiris anxious after Indian-imposed blackout leaves their families incommunicado

Meanwhile, Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and opposition leader Bilawal Bhutto Zardari expressed support for people in the Indian portion of Kashmir to have the right of self-determination. Both visited the Pakistani portion of Kashmir for Eid.

India and Pakistan have fought two wars over control of Kashmir, and the first one ended in 1948 with a promise of a UN-sponsored referendum in the territory. It has never been held.

Qureshi urged the international community to take notice of "Indian atrocities and human rights violations in Kashmir." He said that Islamabad was trying its best to highlight the Kashmir issue internationally and expose Indian "cruelties" in the region.

Thousands of additional troops were sent to the disputed Himalayan region before India's Hindu nationalist-led government said last Monday that it was revoking Kashmir's special constitutional status and downgrading its statehood.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in an address to the nation that the move would free the territory of "terrorism and separatism" and accused India's archrival Pakistan of fomenting unrest.

Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan but claimed in full by both. Rebels have been fighting Indian rule in the portion it administers for decades.

Restrictions, security lockdowns and information blackouts are nothing new for Kashmiris. The region witnessed months of clampdown during massive public uprisings against Indian rule in 2008, 2010 and 2016. However, landline phones have been cut off first time, intensifying hardships.

Frequent separatist calls for general strikes and protests too are routinely met with security lockdowns.

Kashmiris have learnt by experience to figure out ways to survive the hardships of incarceration inside their homes. Residents are also used to stockpiling essentials, a practice usually undertaken during harsh winter months when roads and communications lines often remain snapped.

Over a million residents live inside the security siege of Srinagar. The hardships, residents say, are slowly unfolding.

Residents have begun to face shortages of food and other necessities as shops remain shuttered and public movement restricted. Helpless parents have struggled to entertain their kids caged inside homes. Patients have faced shortages of prescription drugs.

Authorities say they have made cash available in ATMs so that residents can take out money to buy essentials for Eid.

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