Kashmiris anxious after Indian-imposed blackout leaves their families incommunicado
For the last three days, Altaf Ahmed has made repeated calls home in Kashmir and sent many concerned messages to his family but to no avail.
"I am utterly speechless over this act. Is this the democracy that many boast about when a helpless man like me has to struggle following this incendiary step from the government," asked Altaf.
Following New Delhi's surprise move stripping Kashmir of its seven-decade-long semi-autonomous status, India imposed a crippling curfew and a communication blackout on the Himalayan region, leaving Kashmiris outside worried for their families at home.
Even local newspapers have not updated their websites in the past three days, fearing a backlash from the Indian authorities, as Al Jazeera reported.
Authorities in Indian-administered Kashmir placed large parts of the disputed region under lockdown amid a massive troop buildup by India that started earlier. The authorities also shut down schools and put a number of local leaders under house arrest, to pre-empt protests against the move.
Students and expats from Jammu and Kashmir in Delhi and other parts of India cut off from their relatives now anxiously wait to connect with them and check on their well being.
Junaid, a Kashmiri student studying for the Chartered Accountant exams in New Delhi, is worried for his friend Zahid, who had set off for a visit home just as India made its dramatic move. He said he hasn't been able to reach his friend for the past 60 hours due to the blackout.
Inside Kashmir, many families cannot account for the whereabouts of their children living far from them following the complete blackout in the region, with most internet and phone services shut down by the Modi government in India.
Kashmir local Farzana travelled all the way to Kargil, in the Ladakh region, just to make a phone call to her sister.
"I had to travel almost 300 kms to talk to my sister. She is based out in Punjab and was making frantic calls when everything ground to a halt," she told The New Arab.
With the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha around the corner, hundreds of students and employees who had booked their tickets to visit their home region are afraid of what will come next as Kashmir is set to remain under Indian military cordon.
Some concerned citizens say they fear for the lives of Kashmiris who have fought for their right to self-determination for so long. They say it is disheartening that the world is least concerned about it.
"I am in a dilemma about whether to fly back home or stay here in New Delhi. Since past 50 hours I am not able to talk to my parents," said Kashmiri-born Irfan Amin, who looked visibly shaken.
|The residents in the valley are effectively incommunicado. With no internet or any communication, the Indian government has isolated the region from the rest of the world|
The residents in the valley are effectively incommunicado. With no internet or any communication, the Indian government has isolated the region from the rest of the world. Nobody can say for sure what's going on there at the moment, but claims are emerging of a humanitarian disaster beginning to unfold there.
On social media, one veteran journalist from Kashmir – Muzamil Jaleel – provided an initial account of what is taking place there.
"I’ve just come to Delhi from Srinagar (Capital of Jammu and Kashmir). It is worse than in 1846. Srinagar is a city of soldiers and spools of concertina wire," Jaleel’s Facebook post read.
One resident of the Kashmir valley who had flown to Delhi following the Indian move said that multiple checkpoints have been erected in Kashmir.
Asking not to be named, the resident described the atmosphere there as full of tension and paranoia, with troops being deployed at every nook and corner of Srinagar city in particular.
Jammu and Kashmir state is home to about seven million Muslims, making the territory overwhelmingly Muslim majority.
India's Hindu nationalist government on Monday moved to scrapp Article 370 of India's constitution that guaranteed special rights to Jammu and Kashmir, including the right to its own constitution and decision-making process for all matters except defence, communications and foreign affairs. It also split the region into two federal territories, Jammu and Kashmir; and Ladakh.
The Indian government deployed tens of thousands of troops to the region, and ordered all tourists and Hindu pilgrims to leave the popular destination. There were also immediate restrictions on journalists covering the developments.
|Many warn that the move will foster regional instability and domestic unrest, in a region that is disputed with Pakistan|
Critics say the move constitutes 'unconstitutional jugglery' with accusations against the Modi government in New Delhi of attempting demographic change. However, supporters of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have praised the move, claiming it will bring stability and order to the region.
Many warn that the move will foster regional instability and domestic unrest, in a region that is disputed with Pakistan, which controls Azad Jammu and Kashmir, adjacent to the Indian-controlled part. Pakistan has already expelled the Indian ambassador and suspended trade with New Delhi over the move.
On Tuesday, the Indian Congress vehemently opposed the bill, citing such ramifications.
However, the so-called Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill 2019 was passed in the lower house with the massive margin of 370 votes against 70.
Soon after the landmark decision for the BJP-led government, Prime Minister Narendra Modi termed the scrapping of Article 370 as a 'momentous occasion'.
"Together we shall rise and together we will fulfil the dreams of 130 Crore Indians! A momentous occasion in our Parliamentary democracy, where landmark bills pertaining to Jammu and Kashmir have passed with overwhelming support!” Modi tweeted.
But speaking to media in Srinagar following the move, former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah, who was placed under house arrest, broke down live on television.
"Why would I stay inside my house on my own will when my state is being burnt, when my people are being executed in jails? This is not the India I believe in."
Tahir Hussain Sofi is a freelance journalist based in New Delhi.