Thursday, 05 December 2019

Article 370: Kashmir in communications blackout

Indian-administered Kashmir remains in a state of lockdown a day after it was stripped of a special status that gave it significant autonomy.

Telephone networks and the internet, which were cut off on Sunday evening, are yet to be restored even as tens of thousands of troops patrol the streets.

The revocation of special status was expected to trigger widespread protests, but there is no word on how people have reacted to the news.

Local leaders have also been detained.

The Himalayan region of Kashmir is claimed in its entirety by both India and Pakistan, but they each control only parts of it.

There is a long-running separatist insurgency on the Indian side, which has led to thousands of deaths.

The BBC's Aamir Peerzada in Srinagar, who managed to speak to colleagues in Delhi on Monday, said: "No-one knows what is happening in other parts of the state - we can't talk to anyone else. People are concerned - they don't know what is happening, they don't know what is going to happen."

Kashmiris in other parts of the country have said that they are unable to get through to their families and that they are worried and scared. One Delhi-based student told the Indian Express newspaper that he had even tried calling the local police station to ask about his family but to no avail.

Article 370: India strips disputed Kashmir of special status
What happened with Kashmir and why it matters
'India has betrayed Kashmir'
For many people in Indian-administered Kashmir, Article 370 - as the law guaranteeing special status was known - was the main justification for being a part of India and by revoking it, the BJP-led government has irrevocably changed Delhi's relationship with the region, says the BBC's Geeta Pandey.

The article allowed the the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir a certain amount of autonomy - its own constitution, a separate flag and the freedom to make laws, though foreign affairs, defence and communications remained the preserve of the central government.

As a result, it could make its own rules relating to permanent residency, ownership of property and fundamental rights. It could also bar Indians from outside the state from purchasing property or settling there.

The revocation of special status is currently being debated in the lower house of parliament, where a bill relating to the division of Jammu and Kashmir into two distinct regions has been introduced. The bill was passed by the upper house on Monday.

In the days leading up to Home Minister Amit Shah's parliamentary announcement on Monday that Article 370 had been revoked, tensions were high in the Kashmir valley as tens of thousands of additional troops were deployed to what is already one of the world's most militarised zones.

Tourists were asked to leave, Hindu pilgrims making an annual religious trek were asked to return home, and schools and colleges were shut. Local media had reported a "terror threat" against religious pilgrims, but there was no suggestion that the federal government was planning to revoke Article 370.

Assuming the worst, concerned locals stockpiled food that would last for months, correspondents in the region said. In anticipation of the communication blackout that was to come, police personnel were issued with satellite phones.

On Sunday night, two former chief ministers were placed under house arrest and communications networks were blocked. Since then, the region has been under a virtual blackout with little information coming out.

Additional troops have been deployed following Mr Shah's announcement on Monday and there is no indication of when communications will be restored. Local news reports say that people are being allowed to enter the region.

The stripping of special status from Indian-administered Kashmir has drawn sharp criticism in parliament, with one opposition party demanding to know where local politicians are and why the house was not informed ahead of their arrest. However, the opposition is divided, with some parties openly backing the decision to revoke Article 370 and bifurcate the state.

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