Rohit Kumar's Views

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Posts Tagged ‘Muslim Majority region

Life between the curfews in Indian Kashmir

leave a comment »

By Ben Sheppard

SRINAGAR, India – For much of the summer, Srinagar in Indian Kashmir has been a ghost town: all shops shut, streets deserted, and eerily silent. Until the curfew is lifted for just a few hours.

Stalls selling fruit spring up on every corner, noisy traffic jams fill the lanes, and residents rush out to buy fresh food, medicines and toys for their children.

Srinagar is the summer capital of Kashmir, a Muslim-majority region that has endured more than three months of deadly clashes between security forces and protesters who want Kashmir to be independent from India.

To thwart public unrest authorities impose curfews that can last for several days at a time. Anyone caught outside risks being beaten or shot by paramilitary troops and police.

Srinagar’s one million residents can still be found down back alleys, where men lean in doorways arguing about politics, while their families watch endless television or play cards inside.

“It’s miserable because we are living under military occupation,” said Arif Jan, 40, a shopkeeper in Nowhatta district near the town’s biggest mosque.

“My family stocks up on rice and lentils when we can. That is how we live.”

For Showkat Ahmed, the curfew meant he could only get to his wedding with a special permit and a police escort.

Sitting nervously in the back of a red Maruti hatchback decked out in plastic flowers, Ahmed was driven at high speed through the empty town in the middle of the afternoon to meet his bride.

“The curfew means my sisters can’t even make it to my wedding,” Ahmed, a 28-year-old shawlmaker, said. “I am worried about my relatives at home and want to get the marriage ceremony over so I can return to them.”

Normally Kashmiri weddings are night-long affairs with hundreds of guests. But no celebrations had been organised for Ahmed and his new wife. “In the future, I just want a normal life,” he said.

Shops selling wedding decorations are among the first to open their doors when curfew restrictions are briefly lifted, but business is grim.

“I have waited 10 days for this place to open so I can buy pieces for my brother’s costume,” said Ali Wangnoo, 23. “But I don’t actually know whether his wedding is going to happen. Kashmir is a mess.”

Mohammed Yunus, the shop owner, said he had been closed for three weeks until Tuesday when the curfew was relaxed for just four hours.

Such conditions for ordinary people mean the tourism industry has also been decimated.

Srinagar boasts Mughal gardens, a mild summer climate and elegant houseboats sitting on Lake Dal in front of mist-wreathed mountains.

Before the rebellion against Indian rule erupted in 1989, travellers from around the world were drawn to Kashmir’s culture and scenery.

Many returned after India and Pakistan, who have fought two wars over control of the region, began peace talks in 2003 and as militant attacks dropped dramatically.

But any optimism has disappeared with more than 100 civilians killed since June 11 across Kashmir as security forces fire live rounds at stone-throwing anti-India protesters.

“On the 600-700 houseboats there is hardly one tourist. I haven’t had a single guest since the violence broke out in June,” said Rashid Dongola, 55, owner of the Hilton Kashmir houseboat.

As soon as the curfew is lifted, a few hand-paddled boats cross the serene lake carrying vegetables to market. Scores of boats laden with shawls and colourful papier-mache boxes used to vie for tourists’ attention.

Now there are none.

“This should be high season for us,” said Dongola, sitting in his houseboat’s grand wood-panelled interior. “My boat is rotting here and I can’t afford repairs.”

With schools shut for months and hospitals running short of supplies, the price of living under the curfew is high. But few Kashmiris doubt their cause.

“We know what we want,” said Sajjad, who runs a convenience store in the old town. “In the cause of Azadi (freedom) we choose to face the bullets, and we give up the chance of living an easy life.”

Indian forces kill 10 Kashmiris

leave a comment »

SRINAGAR, India – Indian troops killed nine suspected militants as they tried to cross the de facto border with Pakistan that divides the volatile region of Kashmir, the army said Monday.


An Indian policeman fires a teargas shell towards Kashmiri protestors in Srinigar

Elsewhere in Indian-controlled Kashmir fresh violence left a boy dead and 12 injured when police opened fire on anti-India protesters in separate clashes.

“The army has foiled a major infiltration attempt by killing nine militants who were trying to infiltrate into (Indian) Kashmir from across the Line of Control (LoC),” army spokesman J.S. Brar told AFP.

He said a gun battle erupted late Sunday in western Uri sector and continued throughout the night after troops noticed a group of militants trying to sneak in under the cover of darkness.

“The operation is still continuing in the dense forests,” Brar said, adding army reinforcements had been sent to the scene of the fighting.

India has in the past accused the Pakistani army of providing covering fire for infiltrating militants. Islamabad denies the charge.

India and Pakistan agreed to a ceasefire along the LoC in 2003 and began a peace process in 2004. Since then there have been sporadic clashes with both sides accusing each other of violating the truce.

A young Muslim boy was killed and four others injured when police opened fire to disperse stone-throwing protesters during an anti-India demonstration in southern Anantnag town Monday evening, police said.

The death brought more people out on the streets chanting slogans such as “Blood for blood!”

In Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian Kashmir, six people were injured when police opened fire.

Police said the incident occurred when a group of protesters hurled stones at police and shouted slogans. Residents said there were no protests when the shots were fired.

Doctors said one of the injured was in serious condition. Two of the wounded were relatives of senior separatist Yasin Malik.

The policeman who opened fire has been suspended, pending an inquiry, a police statement said.

Two more stone-hurling protesters were injured in southern Pulwama district when police opened fire at violent demonstrators, police said.

Tensions have been threatening to boil over during 11 weeks of demonstrations with 65 protesters and bystanders killed in the Muslim-majority region, where anti-India feelings run deep.

Singh appeals for peace in Indian Kashmir

leave a comment »

NEW DELHI – Prime Minister Manmohan Singh appealed Tuesday to Kashmiris “to give peace a chance” after almost daily anti-India street protests that have claimed at least 50 lives since June.


Kashmiri men pray for those killed in police firings in the past two months of unrest, in Khunmow on …

“I am convinced the only way forward in Jammu and Kashmir is along the path of dialogue and reconciliation,” Singh said in a televised address to an all-party meeting called in New Delhi to discuss the restive region.

“I appeal to the people of Jammu and Kashmir to give peace a chance.”

The appeal was the first from the Indian premier since violence brought life to a standstill in Kashmir’s towns and cities after a teenage student was killed by a police teargas shell on June 11.

At least 50 people — mostly young men or teenagers — have died in the violence, most of them as a result of police firing, in the deadliest spate of protests to shake the Muslim-majority region for two years.

The prime minister’s call came as Indian security forces continued to enforce a strict curfew in most parts of Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian Kashmir, to prevent protests against New Delhi’s rule.

India and Pakistan each hold part of Kashmir but claim it in full. The nuclear-armed neighbours have fought two wars over the region since independence in 1947.

Indian officials say Pakistan-backed hardline separatists are behind the latest unrest, but locals say it is the spontaneous result of years of pent-up frustration and alleged abuses by police and paramilitary forces.

The prime minister urged protesters to end the rolling series of protests and return to schools and colleges.

“I ask their parents: ‘what future is there for Kashmir if your children are not educated’?” Singh said, speaking in a mixture of Hindi and Urdu.

“The cycle of violence must now come to an end (and) we must ensure that no innocent life is lost again,” Singh said, but added that the government “cannot allow the turmoil to continue.”

Singh conceded that sweeping powers given to security forces in Kashmir was widely resented by local residents in the Muslim-majority region which borders Pakistan.

“We will help to accelerate the process of strengthening and expanding the Kashmir police so that they can function independently and effectively within the shortest possible time,” Singh added.

Decades of on-off dialogue about the status of the disputed territory has made no tangible progress and unemployment is running high, especially among young people.

Singh announced a high-level expert group led by former central bank governor C. Rangarajan to formulate a jobs plan for Jammu and Kashmir to improve the “employability” of youths there.

The group is due to report in three months.

Singh added he was “optimistic” about the future.

“If all sides show wisdom and restraint, I believe we can put the bitterness and pain of the recent past behind us and breathe new life in to the peace process,” he said.

Female protesters pile on pressure in Indian Kashmir

leave a comment »

SRINAGAR, India – “We are out on the streets with a message — kill us before you kill our young boys and girls,” says Rehana Ashraf, a female teacher in Indian Kashmir.


Hundreds of women and girls have joined the anti-India protests on streets

It is a stance which makes the security forces deeply anxious as they battle to suppress a surge of violent protests against India’s rule of the Muslim-majority region.


Dealing with female protesters is a challenge for the police and paramilitary troops

An increasing number of women have been involved in the demonstrations, during which at least 45 people have been killed in the last eight weeks.

Most of the victims are young men who have died in gun fire as security forces try to enforce curfew orders that have brought ordinary life to a halt.

Each death — particularly those of two women so far — has triggered further angry protests and an equally strong response from Indian paramilitary troops and police.

“Under such circumstances, you can’t expect us to remain silent,” said Ashraf, 49, who lives in the region’s main town Srinagar with her two young daughters. “We want to send out a message that we are not weak.”


The protests began when a 17-year-old male student was killed by a police tear-gas shell in Srinagar on June 11

Young men have always led the street protests and stone-throwing in Kashmir during 20 years of rebellion, but that is changing.

“We have lost our patience. They have killed our sons and brothers. How do you expect us to be mute spectators?” 41-year-old Mehbooba Akhter, a mother of three teenage sons, told AFP.

Akhter, a Srinagar resident, said she has been taking part in the wave of anti-India protests, which began when a 17-year-old male student was killed by a police tear-gas shell in Srinagar on June 11.

Hundreds of women and girls, many in colourful salwar kameez dresses, have since been regularly out on the streets chanting “we want freedom!” and “blood for blood!” Some carry sticks and stones.

Dealing with female protesters is a fraught challenge for the police and paramilitary troops struggling to control the protests, which India says are instigated by hardline groups supported by Pakistan.

“Putting women and children in the front of rallies is a deliberate attempt by separatists to put us on back foot,” Prabhakar Tripathi, spokesman for paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), told AFP.

“They know we won’t confront them,” he said.

Many women who do not directly take part in rallies carry drinking water to the protesters and also direct youths down escape routes as they flee from baton charges, tear-gas and gunfire.

“It is not the responsibility of men alone to protest against injustice. We women have to be in the forefront to fight it too,” said Shamima Javed, 38.

“I am joining protests to express my solidarity with those women who lost their sons and daughters.”

Other women believe they should not become involved.

“I am against protests. They affect education and the livelihoods of thousands,” said Haleema Akhter, a retired woman in the southern town of Pampore. “But even my own 40-year-old daughter and her children are not willing to listen.”

Syeda Afshana, a leading columnist and lecturer in the main Kashmir university, says the increasing female presence reflects the sense of injustice felt by Kashmiris.

“Out on the streets, women are making their minds felt,” Afshana told AFP. “By pelting stones, they are expressing their collective anger.”