SRINAGAR, KASHMIR — Every night by 6 p.m., Indian security forces lock down the streets of Kashmir’s capital city. For almost a month, people here have been without internet or cell phone service, and have been banned from gathering in public.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling party suspended the autonomy of the states of Jammu and Kashmir on Aug. 5, and has sent an additional 35,000 troops to quell the resistance in this picturesque Himalayan valley.
But one neighborhood in Srinagar is resisting the occupation. Young men from his neighborhood have dug up trenches, take turns guarding barricades blocking their streets, and throw stones at security forces when they try to force their way in at all hours of the night.
“We stay up all night, our boys stand up to them. There are at least 300-400 people here.” Mohammed, a protester in Soura, an enclave of Kashmir’s capital, told VICE News.
“They use a lot of shotgun pellets, tear gas, and power shells, but by the grace of god they haven’t succeeded.” he said. “As long as there are men living here, we won’t let them in.”
Kashmir used to be India’s only Muslim-majority state. Now, it will become two federally administered territories, giving the central government direct control over an area that’s been the focal point of three wars with Pakistan, its nuclear-armed neighbor, and a 30-year-long separatist insurgency.
More than 150 people have been injured in clashes with the police since the lockdown began.
Hassan, who is also from Soura, was on the frontlines of one of the first protests when police shot him with a pellet shotgun.
“The doctor says that it was a full cartridge, and the pellets penetrated inside my body.” Hassan told VICE News. “Some people lost their eyes.They also captured five or six boys and we have no news about them to this day.”
While many have been arrested during protests, others have been taken from their homes in the night. Security forces have detained thousands, and reports suggest some have been tortured, though officials have denied these claims.
“The police raids several places at night. Sabotaging takes place,” Hayat Ahmed Bhat, a community organizer in Soura told VICE News. “They take small children, God knows where they take them, and they don’t release them. We can’t even comprehend what's going on in Jammu and Kashmir right now.”
Bhat spent nearly two years in jail in “preventive detention” and was released before the lockdown began. He immediately started organizing from the local mosque. The government spies on his rallies with drones as they’ve been unable to shut them down.
Bhat continues to organize despite his concerns for his family. He worries he will be arrested again if his neighborhood is overrun by the army.
“God willing we will completely resist this campaign.” Bhat said. “We have decided that until Article 370 is brought back, and Jammu and Kashmir get its rights…. And all the local captives are released, no Kashmiri, will sit here peacefully.”
Cover: A protester in Srinagar chants Islamic slogans and calls for freedom in response to India’s decision to revoke article 370 from the constitution. (Photo: Zubair Ahmed Dar for VICE News)