Islamabad(Jon Boone): A nearly two-month curfew in the troubled Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir was partially lifted on Monday only to be largely re-imposed after fresh violence erupted in several parts of the capital, Srinagar.
For many people the easing of the curfew had been the first opportunity in 52 days to move freely outside their homes. The former Himalayan kingdom has been wracked by protests in the wake of the killing of a popular young militant separatist by security forces on 8 July.
The death of Burhan Wani, a commander of the Hizbul Mujahideen group, tipped Kashmir into one of its worst crises in years. At least 68 people have been killed to date and up to 10,000 injured during the clashes.
The saga has soured relations between Pakistan and India, who have been engaged in a decades-long dispute over the region.
Authorities announced the partial lifting of the curfew after declaring an improvement in the security situation. But in many areas residents swiftly came out to hurl stones at government forces and shout slogans demanding freedom from Indian rule.
Weeks of mobile phone network blackouts and movement restrictions have hit the poorest of Kashmir the hardest, with many people struggling to get hold of basic supplies from relief committees established across Srinagar.
Raja Begum, a 62-year-old widow living in a small home in downtown Srinagar, lost her daily earnings of 150 rupees a day selling clothes on the street.
“I tried to venture out of my house several times to get medicines but each time I was stopped by paramilitary forces,” said Begum, whose health has deteriorated without the drugs she needs.
Even without the curfew, shops remained closed after a strike was called by the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC), an umbrella group of separatist parties, many of whose leaders have been arrested in recent weeks.
“People will not start their usual business until Delhi says it is open to full talks with the three parties – India, Pakistan and the resistance leaders,” said Hamida Nayeem, an academic at Kashmir University and an activist.
On 15 August, Islamabad extended a formal invitation to India for fresh bilateral talks on the Kashmir dispute. But the offer was rebuffed by India, with Delhi saying it would discuss cross-border terrorism, which it blames on clandestine support by Pakistan.
The lifting of the curfew allowed Nayeem to visit injured protesters recovering at Srinagar’s main hospital, many of them from serious pellet injuries to the eyes caused by shotguns used by security forces to disperse crowds.
She said she had seen more than 100 such patients on Monday, many of whom either had been blinded or had undergone multiple operations to try to salvage some of their eyesight.
“India has achieved new depths of degradation with this policy of aiming guns at people’s eyes,” she said. “They treat us as enemies rather than citizens.”
India has flooded even more security forces into a region that is already home to 500,000 soldiers. Many of the reinforcements have taken over schools for use as temporary bases.
The government of the prime minister, Narendra Modi, initially played down the crisis in Kashmir, but it has faced increasing pressure, including from army chiefs, to open a dialogue with separatist leaders.
In a radio address on Sunday, Modi expressed sadness at the loss of life in Kashmir but criticised “those trying to disturb peace in Kashmir by putting small children in the front and hiding behind them”.
India and Pakistan have fought three conflicts over the Muslim-majority region, which Pakistan believes should have been included inside its territory when the subcontinent became independent from Britain in 1947.
Pakistan’s prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, announced over the weekend that he had appointed 22 parliamentarians as “special envoys” who would attempt to raise the issue internationally in the hope that foreign governments would exert pressure on India.
The violence in Kashmir has undermined Sharif’s dream of overseeing an improvement in relations with India.
Doubts are growing over whether Modi will attend a meeting of heads of government of the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation due in the Pakistani capital on 9 November.