‘Kashmir is like an open jail’: Activists describe life under lockdown

The entire state of Kashmir is currently a prison and under military control, a fact-finding team of Indian activists who visited the region since the imposition of a lockdown said Wednesday.

On the eve of India’s Independence Day, a team of activists and scholars released a report that shows a harsh picture of Indian occupied Kashmir, challenging official government accounts that life is returning to normal amid an indefinite curfew and communications blackout imposed just by Indian Parliament.

The report, presented Wednesday in New Delhi, found that people living under the security lockdown expressed “enormous anger and anguish” in response to the uni lateral move by the Prime minister Narendra Modi’s government, to revoke a constitutional provision that gave the predominantly Muslim population some degree of autonomy and prevented outsiders from buying land in the pristine Himalayan region.

A resident looked out a window as soldiers patrolled the street below.

For most of the past week, the entire Kashmir Valley, home to about eight million people, has been put on virtual house arrest.

Indian soldiers rolled in by the tens of thousands. They barricaded roads, closed schools, took positions on rooftops and cut off the internet, mobile phone service and even landlines, rendering the valley mostly incommunicado. At gunpoint, residents were ordered to stay inside their homes.

Indian security personnel on a street in Srinagar

The report’s authors, including economist Jean Dreze, described the situation in Indian-administered Kashmir as “grim” and said the clampdown had “crippled economic life” there.

“Kashmir is like an open jail,” said Vimal Bhai, another activist on the team.

Despite the crackdown, protests have erupted. On Friday, the unrest continued, gunshots rang out and foreign journalists continued to be barred from entering Kashmir without permission.

The police detaining an activist during a protest against the Indian government in Jammu..

The shutdown has brought IOK’s economy to a halt, with farmers, herders, small businesses and daily wage labourers worst-hit, said Kavita Krishnan, a civil society activist who returned from a five-day visit to the valley

A line for gas in Srinagar.

Further, with no phones and internet for 10 days, people are using their feet, cars and planes to move essential supplies into Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK) as it deals with a communications blackout on a scale rarely seen in today’s world.

Clamping down on millions of people is an extraordinary step for the world’s largest democracy.

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