Kashmiri protesters stand
Kashmiri protesters stand

For more than a week, young people in Soura, a densely populated enclave in the Indian-run main city of Kashmir, Srinagar, have taken turns keeping a 24-hour vigil at the entrance points to their neighborhood.

Each of the dozens of entrances have been blocked with makeshift brick barricades, corrugated metal sheets, wood slabs, and fallen tree trunks. Groups of young people armed with stones gather behind the greatest obstacles.

Its goal: to keep Indian security forces, and particularly paramilitary police, out of the area.

“We don’t have a voice. We’re exploding from within,” said Ejaz, 25, who like many other Soura residents interviewed by the Reuters news agency only gave a name, saying he feared arrest.

“If the world doesn’t listen to us either, then what should we do? Pick up weapons?”

Soura, home to some 15,000 people, is becoming the epicenter of the government’s resistance to the elimination of partial autonomy enjoyed by Jammu and Kashmir, the country’s only Muslim-majority state.

The enclave, which has effectively become a no-go zone for Indian security forces, is now a barometer of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Ability of The Hindu Nationalist Government to impose its will on Kashmir after its dramatic 5 August to strengthen its control. over the Himalayan region.

Change, the government said, was necessary to fully integrate Kashmir into India, combat corruption and nepotism, and accelerate its development, which Modi says is the key to ensuring lasting peace and defeating “terrorism.”

A neighbourhood street is blocked with tree branches by Kashmiri protesters during restrictions in Srinagar
A neighbourhood street is blocked with tree branches by Kashmiri protesters during restrictions in Srinagar [Danish Ismail/Reuters]
In Soura, it’s hard to find someone to support Modi’s movement. Many of the more than two dozen residents interviewed by Reuters over the past week referred to Modi as “zaalim”, a Urdu word meaning “tyrant“.

The constitutional change will allow non-residents to buy property in Jammu and Kashmir and apply for jobs in the local government.

Some Muslims in Kashmir say they fear that India’s dominant Hindu population will invade the lush state at the foot of the Himalayas, and the identity, culture, and religion of Kashmiris will be diluted and repressed.

“We feel like we’re watching the LoC here,” Ejaz said, referring to the Line of Control, the de facto highly militarized border between the Indian-controlled parts of Kashmir and Pakistan.

For decades, Kashmir has been a source of friction between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan. Both nations claim the region in its entirety and have waged two wars for the territory since 1947.

Residents in Soura say dozens of people have been injured in clashes with paramilitary police over the past week. It is unclear how many have been arrested.

A government spokesman from Jammu and Kashmir refused to answer questions from Reuters.

The Indian government’s interior ministry did not return calls and emails for comment.

The focal point of resistance

In Srinagar, the government has banned the gatherings of more than four people, set up dozens of roadblocks to prevent movement, and reportedly arrested thousands of people, including former state ministers, community leaders, and activists.

Internet and cell phone services have been out for more than two weeks throughout the city and the rest of the Kashmir Valley, making it difficult for opponents to decide to organize protests.

The fixed telephony service has begun to return to the region, but not to Soura, who is better known for a Muslim shrine and a renowned medical university.

Residents have found other ways to organize. When they see security forces trying to enter the area, residents say they run to a mosque and sound the alarm by playing a devotional song that calls people to “oppose the illegal occupation,” or by issuing an alert on the loudspeaker.

At intersections in the maze of narrow streets that make up Soura, a largely lower middle-class area with a lake and swampy wetlands to the west, there are piles of bricks and stones to use against Indian troops.

At a barricade, the concertina cable had been hung on the road. The young men patrolling the barrier said the cable had been stolen from the Indian security forces.

A protest on August 9, as people took to the streets after Friday prayers, marked Soura as the focal point of resistance to the Indian government’s decision. As residents of the surrounding neighborhoods joined the demonstration, the crowd increased to at least 10,000, according to local police sources.

More than a dozen residents told Reuters that about 150 to 200 security personnel with riot gear attempted to enter Soura after the protests, resulting in clashes with residents that lasted until late at night, as police fired tear gas and metal pellets.

The Indian government initially denied there had been a protest and said there had not been a meeting in Soura involving more than 20 people.

He later said there was a demonstration of between 1,000 and 1,500 people, after the BBC and Al Jazeera broadcast images of the crowd on television.

‘Fighting back’

Since then, Soura has been the scene of small demonstrations and daily battles with security forces, according to people living in the neighborhood.

Security forces have made several attempts to enter Soura, according to residents, with the apparent aim of sealing a large open field area next to Jinab Sahib Shrine that has become a gathering point for the protesters.

India’s paramilitary police say they are determined to regain control of the area.

“We’ve been trying to get in, but there’s a lot of resistance in that neighborhood,” said an Indian paramilitary police officer in Srinagar who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Another senior security official told Reuters on condition of anonymity that “some of the young people in the area are very radicalized” and that it is “a focus of militancy.”

But residents said they will continue to resist the entrance of security forces.

“Every day they’re trying to attack us here, but we’re fighting,” said Owais, in his twenties. “We feel like we’re trapped.”

SOURCE: REUTERS and Aljazeera NEWS AGENCY