SRINAGAR – Authorities ordered a curfew in parts of Indian-occupied Kashmir Friday after hundreds of Kashmiri activists were arrested on the eve of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the disputed region. In the main city of Srinagar shops and schools remained shut, university exams were cancelled for the day and public transport was suspended as hundreds of police and paramilitary forces patrolled the streets.
Modi is scheduled to address a public rally in Srinagar on Saturday, where he is expected to announce economic assistance, more than a year after massive flooding inflicted $16 billion worth of damage across the territory. “Restrictions were imposed to prevent breach of peace before the prime minister’s rally,” a senior police officer told AFP on condition of anonymity.
Nearly 300 activists have been arrested to prevent them from mobilising, another police officer said. Security has been beefed up ahead of Modi’s visit, with the Muslim-majority region already tense following incidents of religious intolerance and attacks on minorities in many parts of India. “I was not allowed to go to work because of the soldiers on the street outside my home,” Waheed Ahmed, a mason living in the old city area of Srinagar told AFP by phone.
After Modi’s rally was announced earlier in the week, police detained all top Kashmiri leaders or confined them to their homes, local media reports said. Authorities denied permission for a counter-rally, dubbed Million March, called by Kashmiri groups on Saturday to press their demands for self-determination and freedom from Indian rule. Some Kashmiri leaders remained defiant, however.
“Our Million March will go ahead come what may,” Syed Ali Geelani, the senior most Kashmiri leader who called for the counter-rally said in a statement Thursday. Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan since the end of British colonial rule in 1947. According to Reuters, Indian security forces have detained nearly 400 Kashmiris to prevent them from staging protests. “Our rally will be a message to India to read the writing on the wall that Kashmiris are against Indian occupation,” said Ayaz Akbar, a spokesman for the All Parties Hurriyat Conference.
Over the past week, 389 people have been taken into preventive custody, most of them Kashmiri activists, an Indian official said. Soldiers patrolled the streets of Srinagar on Friday while police set up barriers around the city, inspecting vehicles. Cellphones will be blocked during Modi’s visit, the Indian army said.