India moves to divide Jammu and Kashmir state despite protests, attacks

The Indian government sent more troops into the Kashmir valley where separatists have been fighting against Indian rule for decades. (File/AFP)
Updated 30 October 2019

India moves to divide Jammu and Kashmir state despite protests, attacks

  • The state will be directly ruled from New Delhi after the division
  • Broadband and mobile internet connections remain unavailable to most Kashmiris

SRINAGAR, India: India will formally split up disputed Jammu and Kashmir state into two federal territories on Thursday, aiming to tighten its grip on the restive region that has been in the grip of a harsh security clampdown for nearly three months.
Street protests against the measures have erupted sporadically, while militants have killed about a dozen people from outside the state in recent weeks.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government withdrew Kashmir’s autonomy in August but in addition it also announced the division of the state into two territories to be directly ruled from New Delhi — one consisting of Jammu and Kashmir and the other the remote Buddhist enclave of Ladakh. At the same time it poured thousands of more troops into the Muslim-majority Kashmir valley where separatists have been fighting against Indian rule for decades, and made sweeping arrests to prevent any outbreak of violence.
The government also imposed severe restrictions on travel and cut telephone and Internet lines. Some measures have been scaled back but a security lockdown is still largely in place and broadband and mobile Internet connections remain unavailable to most Kashmiris.
Schools and colleges are empty and most shops, restaurants and hotels shut. Hundreds of people, including mainstream political leaders and separatists fighting for Kashmir’s secession from India, remain in custody for fear that they could whip up mass protests that have in the past turned violent.
Wajahat Habibullah, a former bureaucrat who served in Kashmir and traveled to the region’s main city last month, said Kashmiris felt humiliated to lose their statehood.
“Whatever the attitude of (federal) governments in the past, they at least felt they had something of their own. Now, there is a kind of feeling of having lost whatever freedom they had,” he said.
On Tuesday, suspected militants fighting Indian rule in Kashmir shot dead five construction workers who had come to work from eastern India.
Officials said the killings appeared to be part of a campaign to deter outsiders from working in Kashmir. Truckers involved in the apple trade were targeted earlier in the month, also in the southern part of Kashmir, a hotbed of militant activity.
Crowds have also been gathering this week in the streets of Srinagar, the biggest city in Kashmir, and elsewhere, throwing stones at security forces in protest against the continuing clampdown.
New territories
On Thursday, G. C. Murmu, a former bureaucrat from Modi’s home state of Gujarat, will be sworn in as the first lieutenant governor of the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir, the government said.
Another former civil servant, Radha Krishna Mathur, will take office as the lieutenant governor of Ladakh, the Buddhist- dominated high altitude region that has long sought to disentangle itself from Kashmir, on grounds that the turmoil there had hurt its own growth prospects.
The Modi administration is hoping to ramp up tourism and infrastructure investment in Ladakh, known for its snow capped peaks and rocky desert plateaus, and is also an area of dispute with China which lays claims to parts of it.
Within the Hindu-dominated Jammu region, there are expectations that the takeover by the federal government will lead to development and shift the focus away from the Kashmir valley, where the insurgency is centered.
“There are three parts to this story, Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. The problem is confined to Kashmir and that too a handful of districts. Why should the rest of the state suffer,” said a top official in New Delhi involved in the political strategy to deal with Kashmir.

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Biggest swimming pool in Russia’s Muslim south bans women, causing outcry

Updated 22 January 2020

Biggest swimming pool in Russia’s Muslim south bans women, causing outcry

MOSCOW: The biggest swimming pool in Russia’s Muslim-majority North Caucasus region has banned women, prompting anger from rights activists and others who have accused the sports complex of discrimination.
The Anzhi Arena spa-complex near Makhachkala, the capital of the internal Russian republic of Dagestan, announced its policy change on the Instagram social media platform on Monday.
“From Jan. 20 onwards attendance of the pool is open only to men,” it said.
The decision has sparked heated debate among residents of the mountainous region, where traditional social values and conservative interpretations of Islam often put it at odds with large parts of European Russia where more liberal values prevail.
The swimming pool said its decision to deny entry to women, who were previously only admitted on Fridays for women-only sessions, was financially motivated.
“Unfortunately, there were hardly any visitors during women’s days,” the RIA news agency cited the spa complex as saying on its Instagram page, which has now been set to private.
“Specifically because of this, after a thorough analysis and evaluation, the difficult decision was made that keeping days for women open in our pool was not viable.”
It is common in the North Caucasus region to find sports facilities offering men and women access on separate days of the week. But a complete ban on women using the pool goes against the Russian constitution, activists said.
Fatima Abdulkhalimova, 31, said she could no longer use the pool despite working there as an instructor.
“I do demonstrations, show people the correct technique, and now I’m not allowed to enter the water,” Abdulkhalimova, a former professional swimmer, said.
“I think it’s to do with religion, I believe it is because a lot of religious guys come here,” she said.
Access to the pool had initially been permitted for both men and women, she said, before being restricted to Fridays only for women.
If having women-only days was not financially viable, then why not simply return to the earlier, mixed-gender system, Abdulkhalimova questioned.
Three women from Dagestan have now filed a complaint to the regional Prosecutor’s Office accusing the sports complex of unconstitutional gender-based discrimination, a copy of the document, shared by Olga Gnezdilova, a lawyer with the Rights Initiative Project, showed.
One of the complainants is Svetlana Anokhina, editor of a local online media platform focused on women’s rights. She said the practice of separating public spaces by gender was on the rise.
“I have a daughter here and she has three daughters too. I’m angry because... I’m afraid for them. I don’t want them to live in a special ghetto for women,” Anokhina, who is based in Makhachkala, said.
One woman, who said she frequently used the pool, said she had been refused a membership pass last month.
Commenting on a post on Instagram she wrote that the pool’s administrators had told her she couldn’t buy a pass because there was not enough locker room space for men.