Uneasy calm in Kashmir on second anniversary of losing autonomy

Troops patrol streets in the main city of Srinagar while most shops remain shut to mark the disputed region’s loss of special status in 2019.

Indian-administered Kashmir witnessed a spontaneous shutdown to mark two years of India scrapping region’s special status [Shuaib Bashir/Al Jazeera]

Srinagar, Indian-administered Kashmir – A spontaneous shutdown is being observed in Indian-administered Kashmir to protest against New Delhi scrapping the region’s special status on this day two years ago.

Businesses in the main city of Srinagar, however, on Thursday said Indian security forces broke the locks of some of their establishments, asking them to remain open in order to “project normalcy” in the restive region, as troops patrolled its streets.

A trade union leader in Srinagar, home to 1.4 million people, told Al Jazeera on condition of anonymity that some of its members were called by the police on Wednesday and told not to observe any shutdown on the second anniversary of the abrogation of Article 370.

Videos shared on social media showed police directing shopkeepers to open shops in Srinagar [Shuaib Bashir/Al Jazeera]

“We were silent and did not tell the police anything. We cannot force the traders to open,” the trade union leader said.

“Today, everyone observed the shutdown, all by themselves. It was not anyone’s call but the police are now forcing them to open and breaking their locks.”

Al Jazeera reached out to a number of traders, who refused to speak due to fear of reprisals.

Sheikh Ashiq, president of Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries, said he also received reports of shops being forcibly opened.

“I believe businesses should be kept out of politics,” he said.

Policemen check the bags of motorcyclists in Srinagar [Farooq Khan/EPA]

Despite directions by the police, most markets across the Himalayan region remained shut or witnessed little footfall. The effect was also visible on public transport in the region.

Ahead of the anniversary, paramilitary troops with riot gear began manning the main roads around the city, putting up numerous barricades for frisking civilians.

Videos were shared on social media, showing police directing the shopkeepers to open their shops in Srinagar’s commercial hub of Lal Chowk. The locks were cut with blades and rods, the images showed.

Al Jazeera sought comments from Tanushree, a senior police officer in Srinagar who goes by just one name, but she said she was too busy to talk.

‘Day of mourning’

Mehbooba Mufti, the last elected chief minister of the region and head of the regional People’s Democratic Party (PDP), held a protest along with her party members on Thursday.

“August 5 is a black day in the history of Kashmir. Today is a day of mourning for Jammu and Kashmir,” she added, referring to how India describes the region.

Top separatist leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq in a statement said the changes made in 2019 were an attempt “to erase its (Kashmir’s) status as a disputed territory”.

Farooq is a member of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC), a collective of separatist groups in the region which demands either a merger with Pakistan or an independent state.

Policemen stand guard in Srinagar while the BJP celebrated the day in several parts of the region [Farooq Khan/EPA]

Both India and Pakistan claim the entire region of Kashmir but rule over parts of it.

Farooq said India’s actions have only complicated the Kashmir dispute further.

“The government continues to assault the people of the state by continuing to incarcerate political prisoners and youth, intimidate people by arrests and bringing in arbitrary and anti-people laws,” his statement said.

Meanwhile, several members of India’s governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) marched with the Indian flag in the southern district of Anantnag to mark the anniversary.

Some BJP workers also hoisted the Indian flag in the districts of Kupwara, Bandipora and Ganderbal. According to the government’s directives, all its departments have been asked to hoist the tricolour on top of government buildings and public institutions.

“The BJP government started oppression, barbarism in 2019. It is unfortunate that the BJP is celebrating while Kashmir is mourning. We will resist this,” a furious Mufti said.

March of solidarity in Pakistan

In neighbouring Pakistan, hundreds of people marched alongside parliamentarians to show solidarity with the people of Kashmir, Pakistani media reported.

Pakistan’s President Arif Alvi marched with other ministers and parliamentarians as participants waved Kashmiri flags.

“We warn to the Hindustan (India), you are playing with fire,” Alvi said to the crowd. “No Pakistani will sit comfortable until Kashmir becomes independent.”

In a series of tweets, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said the government and people of Pakistan “salute their Kashmiri brothers and sisters for their sacrifices in their determined and legitimate struggle”.

“Today India is destroying regional stability through its rogue actions and state sponsored terrorism in contravention of all international laws and norms,” Khan posted.

In a statement shared with Al Jazeera, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi’s said the day marks “India’s illegal and unilateral actions of 5 August 2019”.

“[We] honour sacrifices of Kashmiris and salute their indomitable spirit in their just struggle for inalienable right to self-determination,” said the statement.

“Pakistan calls upon the international community to hold India accountable for its crimes,” said the statement.

The Peoples Alliance for Gupkar Declaration, a collective of pro-India political parties in the region, said it would keep up its struggle for restoration of partial autonomy.

However, Jitendra Singh, a minister in the BJP-led federal government, said the region was better off “fully integrated” with India, where its special laws had resulted in an “unhealthy divide” with the rest of the nation.

“Today, such distinctions are history,” Singh wrote in the Indian Express newspaper.

Source: Al Jazeera