Troops in Kashmir allowed some Muslims to walk to mosques for the Eid al-Adha festival on Monday, but the state remains largely on lockdown since India announced last week it was revoking its autonomous rule. State-run All India Radio said authorities arrested more than 500 people amid an internet and communication shutdown.
After Friday prayers, thousands of Kashmiris turned out to protest the decision, yelling, “We want our freedom.” Reporters with the BBC captured the protests on camera, but India denied they occurred. Hundreds of poor migrant workers fled back to their villages in northern and eastern India, some without pay.
“This is being seen as the biggest betrayal by the Indian state in the last 70 years,” said Shah Faesal, a former Indian Administrative Service officer. “My appeal has also been that let’s stay alive, then we shall fight back.”
The decision to revoke Kashmir’s special status, issued in a decree by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, seeks to withdraw the autonomy Kashmir received in exchange for joining the Indian union after the country achieved independence in 1947. The agreement has allowed the state to operate by an independent constitution except on issues of defense, communications, and foreign affairs. The law forbids Indians from outside the state from permanently settling, buying land, or holding local government jobs in Kashmir.
The reorganization proposal will split the Muslim-majority state into two union territories. Critics said the legislation has revived longtime fears about the Hindu-majority Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) nationalist agenda. Both Muslims and Christian minorities have suffered under the ruling party’s leadership.
Modi lauded the bill, saying it will ensure integration and “bring the youth into the mainstream and give them innumerable opportunities to showcase their skills and talents.”
Aparna Pande, director of the Initiative on the Future of India and South Asia at the Hudson Institute, said the BJP has sought to revoke Kashmir’s special status for decades. “Their argument has been no state in the country should be different from any other state,” she said.
Both India and Pakistan claim ownership of Kashmir, although they govern different parts of it. The neighboring countries fought two of their three wars over the region. Relations soured again in February, when India reported it targeted a terrorist training camp in Pakistan’s territory with an airstrike.
Pakistan responded to India’s latest move by expelling the Indian ambassador and saying it will cut bilateral trade ties with the country. It also suspended train service to India. Pakistani Army Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa vowed to defend the region’s autonomy: “We are prepared and shall go to any extent to fulfill our obligations in this regard.”
Pande acknowledged the two nations have had unfriendly relations for many years but said Pakistan likely wouldn’t receive international backing because of its continued support of regional terrorism.
Irfan Nooruddin, the director of the South Asia Center at the Washington-based Atlantic Council, noted the heavy-handed response by the Indian government would only trigger insecurity.
“This may drive Kashmiris to be more sympathetic toward the separatists who have been waging war within their borders for the last 70 years and will embolden Pakistan to continue to provide arms and other support to the extremists that would fuel violence in the regions,” he said.