A stunning thread on the situation in Indian-occupied Kashmir

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As a security and communication clampdown by India entered a ninth day in the Indian-occupied Kashmir, a Reuters journalist shared a stunning account of his visit to the valley.

Reuters journalist Devjyout Ghoshal was in Srinagar covering the sudden Indian move to annex Kashmir and splitting the region into two union territories.

The journalist took to Twitter to share his observation of the situation in the valley.

“I wasn’t inclined to tweet about #Kashmir, but after seeing the amount of disinformation, I am going to. I’m back in the newsroom today after a week in Srinagar. Things are NOT normal. People are seething. Kashmir is likely a tinderbox waiting for a spark,” Ghoshal tweeted.

He continued: “When I got there on Monday, just hours after Article 370 was abrogated, the city was locked down. I walked a km to find the nicest auto-wallah in the land. He didn’t have a clue of what had happened, why his city had overnight turned into ghost town — blanketed with security.”

“Later that evening, we spoke to @shahfaesal  in his living room. Since satellite TVs were still working, news had trickled in. “We might see an eruption when the guard is down.” “People are taking it as an act of humiliation.” Then, the pelting began.”

“The checkpoints were already in, earlier that day. Most were coils of concertina wire strewn across roads, accompanied by armed guards. This was a special plastic one, for the extra special Lal Chowk.”

“By the next morning, as more information trickled in and more reporters moved about, it seemed like Srinagar was now awash with concentric rings of checkpoints. But there was no curfew. Hence, no passes. Getting through a checkpoint was sheer luck.”

“It wasn’t hard to see how the city had been locked down. Unless, of course, you didn’t want to. In that stretch between Lal Chowk and Gupkar, or parts of Civil Lines, some people moved around. Especially in the evenings. And around the big hospitals through out the day.”

“But if you went around Jamia Majid, Nowhatta, Rainawari, Bemna, Batamaloo and Soura — NOTHING was normal. And people were angry, and frustrated. And it would come out in the stone-pelted, every evening, when the troops withdrew.”

“Now on communications. EVERYTHING was down — except cable TV. About 200 police and local administration officials had satellite phones, with several hundred more using a restricted military network. Even hospital and fire department staff were without any comms.”

The Government Medical College’s principal, who runs a hospital network with 3,500 beds, had to personally visit district officials to coordinate stuff. “Police stations have been given satellite phones but not him. That shows their (government’s) priority,” an official said.

Srinagar’s fire dept could only radio 21 fire stations. People couldn’t reach them, except for actually turning up at a station. “Communication is a lifeline,” said one fire official who requested anonymity. “Only if someone contacts us can we do something.

“And then, the local press, which had working in a vacuum. A reporter told me there had been stone-pelting 2 km away from this newsroom on Monday. He didn’t find out till 4 hours later. And only 5 newspapers out of 174 dailies in the Valley were publishing.

“This is the biggest story of our generation and we haven’t been able to report it,” an editor told me.

Of course, rumors swirled around all day. In Srinagar’s press enclave, there was endless chatter. Hilariously, the govt even called a couple of press conferences, if I remember correctly. Most didn’t know it was called till it was over. Or how to get the information out.

“Many reporters and photojournalists were also scared to go into certain parts of town. Security forces were hostile; they didn’t want disturbances to be reported. Protests were hostile; they were angry at the spin on TV news. So, we sneaked into downtown on a cute Scooty!

“Then, one night, after Modi’s speech: 1. A fighter jet hovered above central Srinagar 2. The moon played hide and seek with clouds 3. Arnab kept shouting that Kashmir was normal I just went to bed.

Almost every Kashmiri I spoke to, described the abrogation as a “betrayal”. So, Modi’s words mattered little to dozens of people I spoke to the next day. They weren’t going to believe anything he said anymore. The tension was building. Friday prayers.

“This happened. Indian police used tear gas and pellets to fight back at least 10,000 people protesting Delhi’s withdrawal of special rights for Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir state in its main city of Srinagar on Friday.

“On Saturday, the city opened up — again, IN SOME PARTS. Yes, there were people, bikes, and traffic — IN SOME PARTS. Yes, shops and street stalls were open — IN SOME PARTS.

“When we drove into Soura that afternoon, large rocks, wooden platforms, poles and boulders blocked the main street, and shops were shut. Security forces sat at a safe distance away. On the way, we crossed at least two other blockaded streets. One had a burning type. At 1 pm.

“On Sunday, as I left, there was word of another protest at Soura. It was accurate, with hundreds pouring out on to the streets.

“Today is/was the ninth day that Kashmir is locked down, under an information blackout. The next few days at critical, with some easing of restrictions likely around Aug 15-16. But that may well light the fuse. Still, how long can you keep Kashmir locked up?”

 

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