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IOK loses special status and got divided: Shops shuttered, streets deserted

SRINAGAR: Shops and offices were shut down in Indian occupied Kashmir on Thursday and the streets largely deserted because the restive state’s constitutional autonomy was formally revoked by the authorities and was split it into two government territories.

The move, announced in early August when a lockdown was imposed by India and tens of thousands of extra troops were sent, saw Jammu and Kashmir cease to be a state and split into two new administrative territories ruled directly from New Delhi.

Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi spoke next to a colossal statue of independence hero Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel in his home state of Gujarat and hailed a “bright future” for the region on Thursday.

The streets were patrolled by the Police and paramilitary troops in bulletproof gear in the densely populated old quarters of the main city of Srinagar and other towns across the volatile Kashmir Valley.

Split since 1947

Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi said, “We are happy that Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh are moving towards a new future from today onwards. Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir today are taking steps for their bright future.”

In early August, Hindu nationalist government of Modi stripped Indian-occupied Kashmir of its special status in the constitution and detaining thousands of people that included almost all local political leaders. They further cut down the telecommunications in IoK.

It was also announced that October 31 onwards, the state would become two so-called union territories: Ladakh to the east bordering China — which also claims part of it — and Jammu and Kashmir in the west.

Considered the lowest governance unit in India, New Delhi has a much bigger say in the overall administrative affairs of union territories. There are now nine union territories and 28 states.

Amid the tight security, low-key ceremonies on Thursday in Srinagar and — the territories’ main cities — were in order to see two new Lieutenant Governors sworn into office.

The move also removes exclusive land rights of occupied Kashmiris, allowing people from anywhere else to buy property. Locals suspect that this is part of aim of Modi to bring demographic change in the region.

Torture allegations

Almost three months after the surprise move of Modi, which came only weeks after he was re-elected in a landslide, hundreds of Kashmiri politicians and others remain in detention, mostly without charge.

Several thousand people were locked up that included children as young as nine in total with most subsequently released. Also, there were allegations of torture by Indian troops, something the government denies.

On October 14, access to around half of mobile phones was restored whereas the internet remains cut for the Kashmir Valley’s more than seven million people.

The UN High Commission for Human Rights in Geneva said on Tuesday that it was “extremely concerned” at the situation.

It said, “We urge the Indian authorities to unlock the situation and fully restore the rights that are currently being denied.”

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