SRINAGAR: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi trumpeted his abolition of Kashmir’s special status in an Independence Day speech on Thursday, but there was little sign that he had won over people in the region’s biggest city – and a deadly border clash with Pakistan added to tensions, a British wire service reported on Friday.
Modi said the constitutional status of Jammu and Kashmir had encouraged corruption and nepotism, while creating injustice for women, children and minority communities. “Today, every Indian can proudly say ‘One Nation, One Constitution’,” said Modi, speaking from the ramparts of the historic Red Fort in New Delhi.
Critics say the policy will trigger a backlash from Kashmiris aggrieved by losing their exclusive right to buy property in the state and to fill state government jobs. In a clampdown in the Indian Held Kashmir (IHK) over the past 12 days, authorities have cut internet and phone links, set up numerous roadblocks and detained more than 500 local leaders and activists.
In IHK’s biggest city, Srinagar, India tightened security further, sealing off many roads with barbed wire for an Independence Day parade attended by only a few locals. Outside the Sher-i-Kashmir cricket stadium where the event was held, the streets were empty, and inside, there were fewer than 500 spectators, with helicopters and drones with cameras hovering overhead. A police official said the stadium could hold at least 2,000.
Satya Pal Malik, appointed IHK’s governor by New Delhi, said the change of status would bring prosperity and development and help to make the region a hub for tourism and industry. He said Islamist militant recruitment had fallen and incidents of stone-throwing against security forces after Friday prayers “have all but ended”.
However, witnesses from several parts of Srinagar have reported daily stone-throwing, and Reuters correspondents have witnessed at least two such incidents in the past few days. On Wednesday, Reuters reporters met four men who displayed injuries that they said had been caused by pellets fired by security forces in Srinagar’s Soura neighbourhood.
Srinagar resident Bilal Ahmad, 38, said India’s Independence Day was “a black day for us”. “Indians are free but we Kashmiris are yet to get freedom,” he said. “If we had been independent, we would not have been caged like this.” There is little sign that the crackdown will ease anytime soon.