SRINAGAR: Troops and paramilitary forces were deployed to the streets of Srinagar on Thursday to anticipate protests as shops and businesses in the main city of Indian-controlled Kashmir shut down to mark a "black day" — the second anniversary of New Delhi's annexation of the disputed region.
On Aug. 5, 2019, India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) scrapped Articles 370 and 35A of the country's constitution that granted special autonomous status to the region, and divided the state into two federally administered units.
The move was followed by a crackdown on political activity, arrests of hundreds of political leaders and a series of administrative measures allowing more outsiders to settle in Kashmir and raising concerns over attempts at engineering a demographic change in the Muslim-majority region.
Anticipating anti-India protests, police barricaded roads and set up checkpoints. They have also reportedly forced some of the shops and businesses to reopen.
Kashmir's last chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, who spent nearly a year in detention following the 2019 crackdown, tried to march with her supporters to Lal Chowk in Srinagar's center, but they were stopped by security forces.
"The BJP is celebrating the day as victory day, but this is a black day for Kashmiris," Mufti said, as police stopped her group.
BJP national general secretary Tarun Chugh responded to the protest attempts by saying that leaders such as Mufti are "trying to disrupt the positive narrative in Kashmir."
He said in a statement issued in Srinagar that after Aug. 5, 2019, "an atmosphere of development and progress has built in the region giving people new hope."
But hope is hardly seen on the streets of Kashmir.
"The Indian government claimed to give us a new Kashmir after the abrogation of Article 370 but the situation in Kashmir is worse today," Srinagar-based shopkeeper Umar Habeeb told Arab News.
"Atrocities have increased in Kashmir and more and more people are being arrested without any reason," he said as he kept his shop closed on Thursday despite pressure from the local administration.
"Police forced some of them to open the shops. Despite that many shops remained closed this shows what is the will of the people," Habeeb said.
Kashmir Traders and Manufacturers Association president Bashir Ahmad Rather confirmed the administration had instructed businesses to remain open.
"We did not receive any written order but yes some instructions were given to traders bodies to keep our shops open on August 5," Rather said, but added his organization could not force people to open their shops.
"It's their will," he said.
"Kashmir is sad, angry, helpless, dispossessed and disempowered than before," Srinagar-based journalist and political analyst Gowhar Geelani told Arab News.
"Civil liberties continue to remain suspended, media gagged, and unemployment at an all-time high, but the propagandist attempts continue to contain the Kashmir story with the aim to paint deceptive calm as permanent normalcy," he said. "There is despair."