Misery mounts as Kashmir marks 100 days of lockdown

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Kashmiri journalists protest the Internet shutdown by India’s government in Srinagar. (AFP)
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Normal life continues to elude the valley. (AP)
Updated 14 November 2019

Misery mounts as Kashmir marks 100 days of lockdown

  • Normal life continues to elude the valley with several schools and colleges shut, Internet services suspended and prepaid mobile services barred
  • More than three months ago, New Delhi repealed Article 370 of the constitution which gave special autonomous status to Jammu and Kashmir

NEW DELHI: Kashmir completes 100 days of a lockdown on Wednesday following the abrogation of the special constitutional status of the state on August 5.

Normal life continues to elude the valley with several schools and colleges shut, Internet services suspended and prepaid mobile services barred.

More than three months ago, New Delhi repealed Article 370 of the constitution which gave special autonomous status to Jammu and Kashmir.

It also bifurcated the state into two Union Territories (UT) – UT of Ladakh and UT of Jammu and Kashmir. A UT is a centrally administered unit where the power of the local legislature becomes subservient to the will of the lieutenant governor, a bureaucrat appointed by New Delhi.

Major mainstream leaders, including three former chief ministers of the state, continue to remain under house arrest, and nearly 3,000 civilians from different parts of the state are being held in different jails across the country.

The shops in Srinagar and other parts of the valley remain shut with businesses operating for a few hours every day.

“This is our way of resisting,” Qurban Ali, a cloth merchant in the Lal Chowk area of Srinagar, said.

“New Delhi wants us to open the shop normally but people want to resist the dictates of the government. They want to tell the government that we are not happy with the decision to abrogate Article 370, or the bifurcation of the state,” Ali told Arab News.

Ghulam Rasool of Pulwama district in South Kashmir has been struggling to get his 21-year-old son released from a detention center for the past three months.

“The security forces picked up my son in August as a preventive measure fearing protest. He has been put in a jail in Agra in Uttar Pradesh and despite so many entreaties he has not yet been released. It’s really painful to see my young son languishing in jail,” he said.

Professor Sheikh Showkat of the Central University of Kashmir said: “I have not held a single class for more than three months. It feels so painful to be deprived of the pleasure of teaching. The university is only conducting necessary exams without holding classes. Students don’t come to the campus out of fear.”

He told Arab News: “I cannot remain cut off from the internet. There are some important conferences and papers to present and for that I need internet. My daughter also travelled to Delhi last time to download some important study materials.

“Kashmir has been excommunicated in this modern world. We have been deprived of modern means of communication. How long this will go one only Delhi can tell you. We have been pushed into this situation.

“New Delhi took the drastic decision of abrogating the special status without understanding the situation and without knowing the consequences. It’s now 100 days and the government does not know what to do. The irony is that this government has dismantled the structure they built in 70 years. They have also now alienated all those who have been with India. Kashmir has never been internationalized so much as it is now all because of the folly of Delhi.

“With each passing day India looks more distant. The dance of majoritarianism in the mainstream India with almost all wings of the state showing disregard to the secular values, the people in Kashmir feel more nervous.”

Srinagar-based Professor Siddiq Wahid said: “I don’t see any change taking place in the next 100 days also. No reach out to people at all. The government remains in complete denial of the criticism it is facing.

“People will continue with the resistance and they will sustain the civil disobedience against the government.”

Jammu-based Ajay Sadotra of National Conference, the oldest regional party of Kashmir, said: “People are in trouble in the valley. It’s three months still there is no attempt by the government to reach out to the people. Allow democracy to breathe in the valley.”

He told Arab News: “It’s sad that all the important leaders are still in jail and the government is more keen to manipulate media and manage headlines rather than genuinely attempt to restore normality in the state.”

Srinagar-based Dr. Hina Bhat of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said: “It is to the credit of the government that in three months no major casualties have taken place in the valley despite the landmark political decision.

“There is no curfew, no clampdown, no restrictions. If people are not opening shops it is because of the threat from the separatist groups and militants,” she added.

Bhat told Arab News: “Despite the presence of militants in the valley the situation has remained under the control of the government. I feel this is remarkable.

“Right now we cannot think of the democratic process. If you release the political leaders there are chances that they might provoke people to protest and this will lead to killings.

"Elections will take place when there is a little normality. The government is taking steps and I am sure with time life will resume when people see the good works of the government.”

New Zealand troops complete daring volcano mission to retrieve bodies

Updated 22 min 57 sec ago

New Zealand troops complete daring volcano mission to retrieve bodies

  • The goal of the team from the bomb disposal squad was to recover the remains of eight people still on New Zealand’s most active volcano
  • White Island volcano sits semi-submerged 50 kilometers out to sea

WHAKATANE, New Zealand: Elite soldiers retrieved six bodies from New Zealand’s volatile White Island volcano on Friday, winning praise for their “courageous” mission carried out under the threat of another eruption.
At first light, two military helicopters set off from Whakatane airport for the offshore volcano, where an eruption last Monday killed at least 16 people and severely injured dozens more.
The goal of the team from the bomb disposal squad was to recover the remains of eight people still on New Zealand’s most active volcano, which sits semi-submerged 50 kilometers (30 miles) out to sea.
After a tense wait, while volcanologists monitored live seismic feeds for signs of another eruption, police said the majority of the bodies had been safely airlifted to a naval frigate anchored off the coast.
“Those staff showed absolute courage in order to ensure those six people were returned to their loved ones,” police commissioner Mike Bush told reporters, saying they were operating in an “unpredictable and challenging” environment.
Bush said efforts to locate the two remaining bodies were ongoing, with divers searching nearby waters after a corpse was seen floating in choppy seas on Tuesday.
Helicopters were also searching over the Bay of Plenty and Bush did not rule out a return to the island when conditions were safer.
Drone flights helped locate the six bodies on the caldera before the operation began and the eight-strong team labored to reach them in heavy hazmat suits and breathing gear that restricted movement.
Special forces commander Rian McKinstry said he was “incredibly proud” of the team, comprised of six men and two women.
“It was a unique operation, but unique operations are what organizations like the Explosive Ordnance Disposal Squadron gets involved in,” he said.
On the eve of the operation, GeoNet vulcanologist Nico Fournier said the dangers facing recovery teams if an eruption occurred included magma, superheated steam, ash and cannonball-like rocks thrown from the caldera at supersonic speed.
As the military began their grim task, police took grieving families out near the volcano on a boat to perform a Maori blessing and locals chanted karakia, or prayers, on the shore as the island smoldered in the distance.
Despite the risk of an eruption inside 24 hours being put at 50-60 percent, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said those involved wanted to help grieving families.
“It has been an incredibly difficult operation but it’s been such a priority. We just want to bring everybody home,” she told Australia’s ABC Radio.
Many of the tourists who died on the island were Australians and Canberra’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne said they had been affected by a catastrophic event.

“This is a time of absolute desperation and distress, and to every single one of those families and their friends and their loved ones, our hearts go out at this extraordinarily difficult time” she said.
The bodies on the island are thought to include New Zealand tour guide Hayden Marshall-Inman.

This handout photo taken and released by the New Zealand Defense Force shows elite soldiers taking part in a mission to retrieve bodies from White Island after the Dec. 9 volcanic eruption, off the coast from Whakatane on the North Island. (AFP)

His brother Mark Inman had epitomized relatives’ frustrations with stalled recovery efforts, criticizing “red tape, bureaucracy” but on Friday he praised the daring recovery attempt.
“It’s going to allow us to grieve and send our loved ones off in the manner they deserve,” he told the New Zealand Herald.
The recovery had been on hold for days as poisonous gases continued billowing from the volcanic vent and the island remained blanketed in a thick layer of acidic ash.
While troops were recovering the bodies, another 28 people — mostly tourists who had been on a day trip to see the natural wonder — were still being treated in hospitals across New Zealand and Australia, many in a critical condition suffering severe burns.
The survivors’ injuries are so severe New Zealand doctors initially estimated they would need to import 1.2 million square centimeters (185,000 square inches) of skin for grafts.
A total of 47 people were on the island during the eruption, hailing from Australia, the United States, Britain, China, Germany, Malaysia and New Zealand.
While Australian officials have only confirmed one dead, they say a further 10 were missing and presumed to have perished.
A coronial process has begun to identify those confirmed dead but police have said it could “take some time.”