SRINAGAR (Reuters) - Hundreds of people protested in Kashmir’s main city of Srinagar on Sunday against India’s decision to curb its autonomy, despite new restrictions on travel and a seventh straight day of communications blackout.
Restrictions that had been temporarily eased on Friday and Saturday – allowing some bakeries, pharmacies and fruit shops to open ahead of the Muslim holy festival of Eid al-Adha – were reinstated in major parts of the city on Sunday afternoon.
Police vans drove around some areas ordering people to shut shop and go home, and most streets were silent by evening, as thousands of troops kept vigil, witnesses said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government locked down the Muslim-majority region last Sunday, cutting off communications, detaining more than 300 political leaders and activists, and putting a “virtual curfew” into force with numerous roadblocks stopping movement.
Seeking to tighten its grip on the region also claimed by neighbouring Pakistan, India announced last Monday that it was scrapping Jammu and Kashmir’s right to frame its own laws and allowed non-residents to buy property there.
Angry Kashmiris gathered at a mosque in Srinagar’s Soura neighbourhood after afternoon prayers on Sunday and began shouting anti-India slogans, according to two Reuters witnesses.
Protesters carried a large banner carrying the words “Save Article 35A,” referring to the constitutional provision that India revoked last week. A swarm of women and girls in colourful headscarves followed the marching men.
“What do we want? Freedom! When do we want it? Now!” the crowd shouted, marching around the neighbourhood.
Some of them held up paper banners, including one that read: “Modi, Kashmir is not your father’s property.”
India’s Home Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The demonstration in Soura followed a much larger protest in the same area on Friday, when pro-independence youths marched before being repelled by tear gas and pellets.
Leaders in Kashmir had warned of a backlash against the stripping of autonomy in a territory where militants have been fighting Indian rule for nearly 30 years, resulting in the deaths of more than 50,000 people.
Reuters reported at least 10,000 people were involved in Friday’s protest in Soura, based on an estimate provided by a police source and backed up by two eyewitnesses. Another official source on Saturday gave Reuters the same estimate.
Dilbag Singh, the Jammu and Kashmir director general of police, told Reuters on Sunday that between 1,000 and 1,500 people were returning from praying at mosques on Friday when “some miscreants” started pelting stones at security officials.
“It was a reaction to stone pelting by these miscreants that one or two rounds of pump action gun was fired,” Singh said, adding that four to five men suffered injuries.
Pakistan has downgraded diplomatic ties with India and suspended trade in anger at Delhi’s latest move.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan on Sunday compared India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Hindu nationalist policies to Adolf Hitler’s “Nazi Aryan Supremacy.” He warned Modi’s actions would go beyond Kashmir and eventually target Indian Muslims and neighbouring Pakistan.
“Attempt is to change demography of Kashmir through ethnic cleansing. Question is: Will the world watch & appease as they did Hitler at Munich?” Khan tweeted.
Ram Madhav, a senior BJP leader, hit back.
“Threat to democratic world is from Pak-sponsored Jehadi terror, not from India,” he tweeted.
Pakistan said on Saturday that it had gained China’s support to take a motion to the United Nations Security Council condemning the Indian decision to change the status of Jammu and Kashmir.
Islamabad has not received much support from other major nations, however, suggesting its odds of success were slim.
India’s BJP has long campaigned for abrogating Kashmir’s special privileges in the constitution, which it sees as an appeasement to Muslims and a hindrance to its own development.
Additional reporting by Fayaz Bukhari and Devjyot Ghoshal in Srinagar; Sanjeev Miglani and Manoj Kumar in New Delhi; Writing by Zeba Siddiqui and Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by Susan Fenton and Andrew Cawthorne