SRINAGAR: Muslims in Indian Occupied Kashmir spent Eidul Azha in a security lockdown, unable to call their friends and relatives as an unprecedented communications block remained in place for ninth consecutive day.
In the latest development, Pakistan on Tuesday formally requested an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council (UNSC) against recent “illegal” moves by India to “change the status quo” in the northern region of Jammu and Kashmir.
The Hindu nationalist government in New Delhi seeks to snuff out opposition to its move to impose tighter central control over the disputed region.
Tens of thousands of troop reinforcements have been deployed to Srinagar and other towns and villages, turning the picturesque city into a deserted warren of barbed wire and barricades.
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Occupation authorities had eased restrictions temporarily on Sunday to let residents buy food and supplies for Eid. But security was tightened again after sporadic protests involving hundreds of people during the day, residents said.
Police vans roamed the streets late on Sunday ordering people to stay indoors.
For Eid on Monday, the Himalayan region's biggest mosque, the Jama Masjid, was ordered shut and people were only allowed to pray in smaller local mosques so that no big crowds could gather, witnesses said.
Regional inspector general of police Swayam Prakash Pani claimed that there were "only a couple of injuries" reported, adding: "Otherwise, the entire valley – the situation is normal." Kashmir police chief Dilbagh Singh claimed late Monday: "There was a stray protest in Srinagar but nothing major."
Footage filmed by AFP on Monday showed hundreds of people protesting in the Soura area of Srinagar, shouting slogans such as "We want freedom" and "India go back". Three helicopters continuously hovered over the area as protesters jeered and shook fists at the aircraft.
"What India has done is unacceptable to us. Our struggle will continue even if India keeps Kashmir locked down for months. Only solution is that India has to accept what Kashmiris want," one protester said. "India is a sham democracy and the world should take note of the atrocities this country is doing against us," another said.
The local residents spoke of agony on Eid. "I can't believe we are forced to be in our homes on this festival. This is the festival of joy and happiness," resident Shanawaz Shah told AFP. Residents said the security crackdown had made them too fearful to celebrate.
A sheep trader at a Srinagar market, who gave his name as Maqbool, said the number of people buying animals for traditional feasts was sharply lower and he had gone from "huge profits" last year to a "big loss" this time.
An Indian home ministry spokesperson said on Twitter that the restrictions "are being eased out in a phased manner". Normal communication Jammu division "has been restored after assessment by relevant local authorities", the spokesperson added.
However, there was no independent confirmation of the easing of restrictions. On Tuesday afternoon people in Kashmir could still not be reached by phone and the internet appeared to be inaccessible.
The spokesperson said that medical services are being provided "without any hindrance" and the availability of medicines has "been ensured" in every hospital in the valley. A main highway through the region "continues to function normally".
Meanwhile Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said he sent a letter to the presiding member of the UNSC, requesting an emergency council meeting at earliest.
"Today I sent the letter through our permanent representative to the United Nations Maleeha Lodhi and she forwarded to the president of the UNSC," Qureshi said in a video statement.
Warning that Islamabad would go to "any extent for defense of motherland", Qureshi added that he informed the UNSC that Indian actions in Kashmir jeopardised regional and global peace.
Also, the Foreign Office on Monday condemned India’s atrocious lockdown in occupied Jammu and Kashmir and the resultant curtailment of religious freedom of millions of Kashmiris on the occasion of Eidul Azha.
Foreign Office Spokesperson Dr Muhammad Faisal said in a statement that restrictions and curtailment of the fundamental religious freedom amount to “collective punishment” on an industrial scale and violated all principles and precepts of human rights and humanitarian law.
“Restrictions and curtailment of this fundamental religious freedom of millions of Kashmiri Muslims constitutes a serious violation of applicable international human rights law, to which India is a party,” said the statement.
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The spokesperson said that the occupied valley had been turned into a massive military prison and Kashmiris were prevented from offering the traditional prayers at Srinagar’s historical Jama Masjid.
He said a complete communications blockade of telephone; landline and cellular and internet services for over a week, also deprived the Kashmiris from contacting their families and loved ones on this festive occasion.
“These measures amount to collective punishment on an industrial scale and violate all principles and precepts of human rights and humanitarian law,” the Foreign Office said.
It called on the international community, including the United Nations human rights machinery and other relevant bodies, to hold India to account for these deliberate crimes against religion, violations of international law and lack of respect for human decency.
Meanwhile, global human rights activists and personalities – including Man Booker Prize-winning author Arundhati Roy, an outspoken critic of Modi – signed an open letter to the Indian leader calling for an end to the lockdown.
"We strongly believe that for India to be able to continue to define itself as a democracy, it must allow public discourse and debate on these issues," said the letter published on Monday. "This certainly cannot be achieved by blocking communications, detaining political leaders and civil society activists, and restricting movements within Jammu & Kashmir."
Petition in top court
A petition against the lockdown filed by a political activist was heard in the Supreme Court on Tuesday. India's Attorney General KK Venugopal told the court that security "situation in J&K is being reviewed every day and there are signs of improvement".
During the proceedings, a justice said that the authorities needed more time to restore order in Kashmir.
The petition seeks lifting of curbs on communications, movement of people and the release of detained political leaders. The petitioner lawyer, Menaka Guruswamy, said the court should move to restore hospital services and open schools. "That is all I ask," she told the court in New Delhi.
Justice Arun Mishra said the government wanted to bring Kashmir back to normal as soon as possible. "The situation is such that nobody knows what is going on. We should give them time to restore normalcy. Nobody can take one per cent of chance," Mishra said.
Separately, Rahul Gandhi, a leader of India's opposition Congress party, said on Tuesday he and his colleagues want to visit the state, but urged authorities to "ensure us the freedom to travel and meet the people, mainstream leaders and our soldiers stationed over there".
With additional input from Agencies
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