NEW DELHI: Fear gripped India-held Kashmir on Tuesday as residents leaving the disputed territory spoke of a tense military crackdown and protests breaking out against the shocking government move to scrap its autonomous status.
At least six people were injured in protests that erupted after a presidential decree on Monday removed the Muslim-majority region’s special status, sources said.
A hospital in the main city of Srinagar had admitted six patients with gunshot wounds or other injuries caused by non-lethal weapons, a source at the facility said on condition of anonymity.
The Himalayan region has been virtually cut off from India after authorities took down phone and internet services ahead of Monday’s announcement by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government.
Public gatherings and rallies have also been banned. And two former chief ministers of Jammu and Kashmir, Mehbooba Mufti and Umar Abdullah, have been put under detention.
However, in some of the first observations reported from the cut-off communities, passengers who arrived in New Delhi on flights from Srinagar spoke of the uneasy mood in the restive region.
A traveller, who asked to remain anonymous, said he heard intermittent gunfire and other weapons being fired since Monday, soldiers shouting during the night, and saw government troops deployed “every five steps”.
The valley is virtually cut off from India after govt took down phone and internet services ahead of the announcement
“My car was checked at least 25 times on the way to the airport and it took me almost four hours to cover a distance of hardly 30 minutes,” he told AFP.
Mubeen Masoodi, who also arrived on Tuesday from Srinagar, said he was at a wedding on Sunday night when suddenly the revellers realised their phones were no longer working.
“While we were having our food (around) midnight, that is when the phones one by one went (off)… and that’s when people realised something big is happening and everyone just rushed back home,” he said.
Sanna Wani, a Kashmiri poet, took to Twitter to describe the fear and panic gripping Srinagar before she managed to get a flight out.
She said even those residents citing medical emergencies were not allowed to get past a security checkpoint.
The stories of apprehension felt by Kashmiri residents came as UNHCR spokesman Rupert Colville said the communications blackout and security clampdown were deeply concerning.
“We are seeing, again, blanket telecommunications restrictions, perhaps more blanket than we have ever seen before, the reported arbitrary detention of political leaders and restrictions on peaceful assembly,” he told reporters in Geneva on Tuesday.
India-held Kashmir has been in the grip of a rebellion against Indian rule since 1989.