India imposes Kashmir clampdown to head off Eid protests


Officials plan to keep security tight to block any big gatherings of people during Eid al-Adha, a major religious holiday for Muslims (Photo: AFP)

Indian troops clamped tight restrictions on mosques across Kashmir for Monday's Eid al-Adha festival, fearing anti-government protests over the stripping of the Muslim-majority region's autonomy, according to residents.

The Himalayan region's biggest mosque, the Jama Masjid, was ordered shut and people were only allowed to pray in smaller local mosques so that no big crowds could gather, witnesses said.

Kashmir police chief Dilbagh Singh said late Monday "Eid celebrations were peaceful today".

"There was a stray protest in Srinagar but nothing major," he told AFP.

Regional inspector general of police Swayam Prakash Pani added that "there is only a couple of injuries which were reported, otherwise the entire valley, the situation is normal".

Kashmir has been in a security lockdown for eight days as the Hindu nationalist government in New Delhi seeks to snuff out opposition to its move to impose tighter central control over the region.

Internet and phone communications have been cut and tens of thousands of troop reinforcements have flooded the main city of Srinagar and other towns and villages in the Kashmir Valley.

Authorities had eased restrictions temporarily on Sunday to let residents buy food and supplies for Eid, one of the most important Muslim festivals of the year.

But security was tightened again after sporadic protests involving hundreds of people during the day, residents said. Police vans toured the streets late Sunday telling people to stay indoors.

"I can't believe we are forced to be in our homes on this festival. This is the festival of joy and happiness," resident Shanawaz Shah told AFP.

A petition against the lockdown filed by a political activist will be heard in the Supreme Court on Tuesday.

The clampdown continued as the nation's richest man Mukesh Ambani said at Reliance's annual general meeting in Mumbai Monday that his firm would heed Modi's call for private investment in Kashmir, with announcements to be made in the coming days, Indian media reported.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi insisted last week the decision to strip Kashmir of its autonomy was necessary for its economic development, and to stop "terrorism".

Too scared to eat 

Residents said the security crackdown had made them too fearful to celebrate.

A sheep trader at a Srinagar market, who gave his name as Maqbool, said the number of people buying animals for traditional feasts was sharply lower and he had gone from "huge profits" last year to a "big loss" this time.

Several thousand people took part in one rally after Friday prayers that was broken up with tear gas and shotgun pellets, residents said. But authorities denied there was any protest.

Modi has said the changes would bring peace and prosperity to a region blighted by a decades-old insurgency against Indian rule that has left tens of thousands dead.

He has won widespread backing in India for the move.

But local Kashmir leaders say that stripping the region of its autonomy risks worsening the unrest.

Many local political leaders have been detained and Indian media reports said some had been taken to detention centres outside the state.

The move has also sparked fury in Pakistan, which also claims Kashmir.

The neighbours have fought two wars over the Himalayan region which they split after their independence in 1947.

In a series of tweets on Sunday, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan compared India's tactics in Kashmir to those of the Nazis.

Khan said the "ideology of Hindu Supremacy, like the Nazi Aryan Supremacy, will not stop" in Kashmir.

Officials said Khan would visit the Pakistan-controlled part of Kashmir this week to show solidarity.

Pakistan has already expelled the Indian ambassador, halted what little bilateral trade exists and suspended cross-border transport in protest at New Delhi's move on Kashmir.