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India’s interior minister visits Kashmir amid rising violence

Srinagar, Indian-administered Kashmir – In an apparent attempt to address the disgruntlement of Kashmiri’s youth with New Delhi, India’s Home Minister Amit Shah on his visit to the region said he came to extend a hand of “friendship” to the young people.

Shah is on his first visit to the disputed region after architecting the nullification of Indian-administered Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status under the Indian Constitution on August 5, 2019, which was followed by a crippling communication and military lockdown for months.

The three-day visit of Shah comes in the backdrop of a deteriorating security situation in the region, which has seen an uptick in the violence resulting in 38 killings in 20 days of this month – including 11 civilians, 17 rebels and 10 security personnel.

While addressing young people during an interaction with the region’s youth clubs, the union home minister sought their cooperation in strengthening “democracy” in Kashmir.

“I have come here to extend friendship,” Shah said. “Come and connect with Modi ji, connect with the Indian government,” he said, indicating Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

“I have come here to seek your cooperation. The administration has extended its hand of friendship towards you. Come forward and strengthen the democracy here. No one would be allowed to disrupt the peace in Kashmir. From the perspective of peace, development and infrastructure, this is the ideal situation and no one would be allowed to stop it.”

 

While justifying the decision of the internet shutdown two years ago, Shah said the curfew in the valley and ban in the aftermath of abrogation of Jammu Kashmir’s special status and bifurcation into two union territories was done to protect Kashmiri lives.

“For some time that you suffered, it only saved your children,” he said. “When the situation normalised, we opened everything.”

Shah introduced the bill of the government’s unilateral decision to abrogate Article 370 in the parliament two years ago. The law, that provided exclusive citizenship rights to the permanent residents of the region, barred outsiders from buying property or permanent settlement.

The move sparked anger among the seven million residents of the region, who expressed their resentment saying the step is designed to bring demographic changes in the Muslim-majority territory.

While hailing the decision of stripping of the region’s limited autonomy on his Kashmir visit on Saturday, Shah said “the day of August 5, 2019, was historic and would be written in golden letters”.

“It marked the end of fear, terrorism, corruption and nepotism to start the era of progress, development and peace … which now the youth of Kashmir have to take forward,” Shah said.

The development in the region that is taking place now was not possible before the scrapping of the special law, he added.

Shah also claimed “terrorism” and stone-throwing protests were witnessing a decline.

“Till now more than 40,000 people including security forces, terrorists and civilians have lost their lives here … Terrorism and progress cannot go together. The first requirement for development is that there has to be peace. And who can do it?… It is the youth who have to work in eliminating terrorism.”

‘Civilian killings’

The union home minister’s visit to Kashmir comes weeks after the latest spate of civilian killings. There has been a string of attacks on the minority communities and the non-local migrant workers that has forced thousands of them to flee the region.

The home minister met the families of the civilians killed in recent attacks.

October has been a deadly month in the region with back-to-back attacks on civilians with specific targets on minority communities and non-local workers by suspected anti-India rebels.

Among the victims killed were five non-local workers, two local Hindus and a Sikh woman. Most of the attacks, officials have said, have been carried out by the newly formed armed group The Resistance Front (TRF) – which has threatened to carry out more attacks.

While the Indian government had claimed the scrapping of the region’s special status would wipe out violence and bring development to the region, the tense atmosphere, including political instability and killings, has continued.

Currently, the region is without an elected government and is being directly governed by New Delhi through its hand-picked administrator.

‘More harassment’

More than 800 people, most of them demonstrators, rebels or their relatives have been detained. Officials told Al Jazeera at least 30 people have been arrested under the controversial law-Public Safety Act (PSA) – a law under which a person can be jailed for more than a year without a trial.

Nearly two dozen of these detainees have been shifted to jails outside Kashmir.

The footprint of police and paramilitary troopers have also been strengthened on the region’s streets. Dozens of female paramilitary troopers have been deployed tasked with frisking female commuters.

Hundreds of motorcycles are also being seized by police without specific reasons, sparking anger among the people. The police justified the move saying it was done “related to terror violence”.

“Whenever any Indian minister comes to Kashmir, it just increases harassment for us. There is always more harassment. We are being made to face difficulties in the name of so-called ‘security measures’,” said a 31-year-old, Ahmad, whose two-wheeler was seized by police for unspecified reasons.

“I waited outside the police station with a helmet in my hand, but here, no one cares.”

Amid the home minister’s visit heightening security measures have been put in place with multiple new security bunkers and checkpoints established across the region, particularly in the main city of Srinagar which is home to more than one million people.

To strengthen the surveillance, officials said sharpshooters and snipers have also been deployed in multiple parts of the city.

Police sources told Al Jazeera that 50 companies of additional paramilitary troopers have also been inducted into the region.

More high-resolution CCTV cameras and drones have also been put in place around the residential areas of minorities and migrant workers to prevent any attacks.




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