SRINAGAR, India — Residents of Indian-administered Kashmir were running short of essentials Aug. 13 as an unprecedented security lockdown kept people indoors for a ninth day.
India has imposed a near-constant curfew and a communications blackout as it tries to stave off a violent reaction to the government’s decision on Aug. 5 to strip Kashmir of its autonomy.
The reaction to India’s unprecedented move has so far been largely subdued. But anti-India protests and clashes have occurred daily, mostly as soldiers withdraw from the streets at dusk. Though the scale of the lockdown is unprecedented, civil resistance to Indian rule is not uncommon in Kashmir, and young men have hurled stones and abuse at police and soldiers.
Indian troops patrolling the disputed region allowed some Muslims to walk to mosques to mark the Eid al-Adha festival on Monday, and shops were opened briefly on previous days.
The lockdown is expected to last at least through Aug. 15, India’s Independence Day.
The main city in the India-administered part of the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir has turned into a vast maze of razor wire coils and steel barricades as drones and helicopters hover overhead.
Wearing flak jackets and riot gear, paramilitary soldiers carry automatic rifles and shotguns to control the network of checkpoints and barricades across roads, lanes and intersections in Srinagar. The few vehicles and pedestrians allowed through are regulated through this maze.
Although the four million residents of the Kashmir Valley, where an insurgency has simmered for decades, are used to blockades, the one imposed after the Indian government’s surprise move last week to strip the region of constitutional privileges is something residents say they’ve never seen before. Amid the labyrinth whose entry and exit points are changed frequently, people find themselves disoriented in their own city, and struggle to memorize its frequently changing street map.
“This is so vast, so expansive,” resident Zameer Ahmed said as he prepared to enter one barbed passageway. “The entire Srinagar city has been knitted in razor wire to seek our silence and obedience.”
Mohammed Maqbool, an engineer, marveled at the blockade system, the most intricate he said he’s seen in 30 years in Srinagar.
“This time they’ve put in place the smartest blockade ever,” he said. “They aren’t aggressive compared to the public uprising of 2016. If you must, they also allow you to venture out of home, yet they’ve throttled our voice by such a sophisticated blockade.”
Razor wire divides neighborhoods, discouraging people from assembling. Some roads are blocked by perpendicularly parked armored vehicles or private buses. Because of the complexity of the security forces’ one-way system, it is impossible to use the same route and return home from any particular destination, even if it is within sight.
“They’ve changed the road map of our city, trying to make us like strangers in our own neighborhoods,” said Bashir Ahmed, a resident of downtown Srinagar.
“This is a drill about disciplining and regulating people’s movement. This is to psychologically break people and teach them that they’re not in control of their own bodies,” said Saiba Varma of the University of California, San Diego, who is in Srinagar for post-doctoral research in medical anthropology.
Surveillance drones and military helicopters hovered over Srinagar, the region’s main city. On Sunday, soldiers stopped vehicles in the city’s main business hub, causing a traffic jam just as a low-flying drone passed by, according to Javaid Ahmed, a resident who said he witnessed the scene from a nearby building.
He said he later saw the same scene broadcast on Indian TV channels.
“That footage was used to say Kashmir was normal with everyone thronging the streets,” Ahmed said.
Kashmiris fear India’s move to put the region under greater New Delhi control will alter its demographics and cultural identity.
India said its decision to revoke Kashmir’s special constitutional status and downgrade it from statehood to a territory would free it from separatism.
Pakistan has denounced the recent changes as illegal and has downgraded its diplomatic ties with New Delhi, expelled the Indian ambassador and suspended trade and train services.
An uneasy calm continued to prevail along the Line of Control in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, where residents of Chakothi, a remote border town, said they were living in a state of uncertainty.
“Solve the issue of Kashmir through talks or war but now solve it, as we are always the victim whenever there is any tension between Pakistan and India,” Rubina Bibi, a 40-year-old housewife, told The Associated Press.
Jalal Hanif, a shop owner, said there had been no exchange of fire in Chakothi or elsewhere in Pakistan’s part of Kashmir since New Delhi imposed the changes.
“But whenever Indian troops open fire, shells and mortars hit our bazaar and homes,” he said. Hanif said those who can afford to have built bunkers to protect themselves.
In a statement Aug. 12, Pakistan’s foreign minister condemned Indian authorities for curtailing religious freedom during the Eid festival in the disputed Himalayan region.
Pakistan has urged international condemnation of the Indian move, but India maintains it was an internal, sovereign decision.
Associated Press writer Rohan Mughal in Muzaffarabad, Pakistan, contributed to this report.