HELD SRINAGAR/NEW DELHI: Some 125,000 extra soldiers have been deployed, a security source said, joining around 500,000 already in the northern Himalayan region.
Schools reopened in Indian Held Kashmir (IHK) main city on Monday but most classrooms were empty as parents kept their children home, fearing unrest over the government’s decision two weeks ago to revoke the region’s autonomy. Thousands of people have been arrested by Indian authorities in occupied Kashmir as curfew and other restrictions continued for the 16th day on Monday.
Some 190 primary schools were set open in Srinagar in a sign of normalcy returning to Muslim majority Jammu and Kashmir where authorities started to ease restrictions on movement last week. Parents said their children would stay home until cellular networks are restored and they can be incontact with them. “How can we risk the lives of our children?” said Gulzar Ahmad, a father of two children enrolled in a school in the city’s Batamaloo district where protests have occurred. “Troops have arrested minor children in the last two weeks and several children were injured in clashes,” he said. “Our children are safe inside their homes. If they go to school who can guarantee their safety?”
Authorities have previously denied reports of mass arrests. Srinagar’s top administrative officer, Shahid Iqbal Chaudhry, said on Sunday that adequate security would be provided for schools. “I will take responsibility for any untoward incident,” he added.
Critics said the decision alienated many Kashmiris and would add fuel to a 30-year armed revolt in the Himalayan territory that Pakistan also lays claim to. Paramilitary police in riot gear and carrying assault rifles stood behind steel barricades and coils of razor wire in Srinagar’s old quarter to deter a repeat of weekend protests.
In dense neighbourhoods such as Batamaloo, youths set up makeshift barricades to block security forces from entering. Authorities re-imposed curbs on movement in parts of Srinagar on Sunday after overnight clashes between residents and police in which dozens were injured, two senior officials and witnesses said.
Journalists visited two dozen schools in Srinagar on Monday. Some schools were lightly staffed and classrooms deserted. Gates at other schools were locked. Only one student showed up at Presentation Convent Higher Secondary School, which has an enrolment of 1,000 pupils, and went home, said a school official. There were no students at the barricaded Burn Hall school in one of the city’s high security zones. “How can students come to classes in such a volatile situation? The government is turning these little children into cannon fodder,” a teacher said, among a handful of staff who turned up for work.
Situation in occupied Kashmir is still precarious as the curfew is still not lifted despite global outcry.
Meanwhile, thousands of people have been arrested by Indian authorities in occupied Kashmir as curfew and other restrictions continued for the 16th day on Monday, following the Indian government’s abolition of the special status of the occupied valley.
At least 4,000 people have been arrested under the black Public Safety Act (PSA) over the past two weeks, a magistrate said in Srinagar.
“Most of them were flown out of Kashmir because prisons here have run out of capacity,” the magistrate said, adding that he had used a satellite phone allocated to him to collate the figures from colleagues across the occupied territory amid a communications blackout imposed by authorities.
An Indian government spokesman, Rohit Kansal, said previously there was “no centralised figure” for the total number of people detained, but a number of government officials in Srinagar, including police and other security personnel, confirmed the arrests.
A police official said on condition of anonymity, “Around 6,000 people were medically examined at a couple of places in Srinagar after they were detained. They are first sent to the central jail in Srinagar and later flown out of here in military aircrafts.”
Two senior government officials also confirmed that at least two dozen people were admitted to hospitals with pellet injuries, as heavy clashes broke out in a number of places in Srinagar including Soura, Rainawari, Nowhetta and Gojwara areas.
As a result of the strict curfew and communication blockade, a humanitarian crisis is fast unfolding as residents of occupied Kashmir face severe shortages of essential commodities including baby food and life-saving medicines.
Almost all Hurriyat leaders, including Syed Ali Gilani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, continue to remain under house arrest or in jails. Meanwhile, the authorities said that they were re-opening 190 primary schools in the city yet few children could be seen at half a dozen places.
Some 125,000 extra soldiers have been deployed, a security source said, joining around 500,000 already in the northern Himalayan region divided with Pakistan since 1947.
On Sunday family members held a wake for timber trader Sidiq Khan, 62, who relatives said had died after suffocating from tear gas fired by security forces in Srinagar.
A senior government official said that a man in his mid-60s had died, and that a post-mortem “has not revealed any external or internal marks of injury”.
Around 20 percent of landlines were working on Monday. But mobile phones and the internet were still cut off.
In Srinagar on Monday most main streets and markets were deserted, although some roads looked busier than in recent days. Some teachers and administrative staff made it to schools but many others didn´t. PTI also reported that only a handful of children had come.
“I don´t think parents will send their children to school if they can´t communicate and check on them whenever required,” a resident of the Rajbagh area of Srinagar said outside the Presentation Convent School. “I came here after watching the news yesterday but it doesn´t look like any student has come to school today. There are many other teachers who stay farther away and haven´t made it here,” one of the teachers at a local school said.