Photos Emerge From Kashmir, a Land on Lockdown


NEW DELHI — 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.

The Indian government says these measures, in place since Sunday night, are necessary to keep law and order. Human rights activists have likened them to mass incarceration.

This week, India’s Hindu nationalist government jolted the region by erasing the autonomy of the one Muslim-majority state in India, Jammu and Kashmir, which includes the Kashmir Valley. India knew this move would be deeply unpopular in the valley so they chose to lock it down.

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. These pictures are some of the first images to emerge, taken by Indian photographers who managed to work around the communication blockade and the miles of razor wire to take and publish their images.

Kashmir is an exquisitely beautiful, staggeringly fertile land. Its meadows are carpeted with wildflowers, its white-toothed mountains push up against a flawless blue sky.

Many Indians consider Kashmir an integral part of India and have wanted to bring it more intimately into the fold. Indian officials say that removing its autonomy and exerting more central government control will cut down on corruption, improve security and lift the local economy.

But many Kashmiris don’t want to be part of India at all. They see India as foreign and oppressive and, for decades, have chafed under the country’s rule, expressing their frustration in countless ways, from school sit-ins to armed insurgency.

The one important thing the opposing sides agree on — perhaps the only thing — is that for too long Kashmir has suffered stagnation, hopelessness, squandered potential and endless killing.

Clamping down on millions of people is an extraordinary step for the world’s largest democracy. Even on Friday, five days after a curfew was imposed, many people were still marooned in their homes. Some have said they are running out of food. A few cautiously emerged to pray at their neighborhood mosques. Soldiers stared at them from behind metal face masks.

Anybody who can get out is doing exactly that. Soon after the lockdown was imposed, scores of migrant workers from other parts of India rushed bus and train terminals. Getting in is even harder.

Many Kashmiris were shocked and demoralized by the news that their autonomy had been instantly erased. The Indian government, led by Narendra Modi, made its move on Monday, dismantling an article in the Indian Constitution that guaranteed Kashmiris special land ownership rights and allowed Kashmir to frame its own laws.

That article protected the special status Kashmir enjoyed since it joined India in 1947. Mr. Modi’s government also stripped away the statehood of Kashmir and turned it into a federal territory. Mr. Modi’s political party has deep roots in a Hindu nationalist ideology, and critics saw this move as another example of his sowing divisions between India’s Hindu majority and its Muslim minority.

As tensions have risen in recent days, groups of young men, full of years of pent-up frustration, have squared off with soldiers, hurling rocks and ducking buckshot. Security forces arrested more than 500 people and put them in makeshift detention centers.

Across India, most people supported the move to take away Kashmir’s autonomy. Even progressive politicians who usually clash with Mr. Modi backed him on this. But in Pakistan, many people feel Kashmir should be part of their country and are infuriated by India’s actions.

Both Pakistan and India have nuclear arms, and they have fought wars over Kashmir. Most seasoned observers think another war is unlikely, but anything that increases tension between Pakistan and India is taken very seriously.

Source : Nytimes