Eid in Kashmir muted as India bans large congregations

(The Guardian) – Large congregations have been banned for the major Islamic festival of Eid in Indian-administered Kashmir, where an unprecedented communications block on landlines, mobile and the internet remained in place for an eighth day.

Residents have been allowed to visit their local mosque, according to Indian officials, but the communications block means they have been unable to call relatives.

Large congregations were banned in an apparent attempt to avoid anti-India protests.

A spokesperson for the Indian home affairs ministry said prayers had gone ahead peacefully in all local mosques in Anantnag, Baramulla, Budgam and Bandipore “without any untoward incident”.

“Jamia Masjid old town Baramulla witnessed approx 10,000 people offering prayers,” the spokesperson said on Twitter. It was not immediately possible to independently confirm the claim.

India’s foreign ministry shared photos of people visiting mosques, but a spokesman was not able to specify where the photos were taken within Jammu and Kashmir, which New Delhi downgraded from a state to two federal territories a week ago.

The Kashmir police chief, Dilbagh Singh, said people “have been asked to offer prayers locally”. Shanawaz Shah, a local resident, told AFP: “I can’t believe we are forced to be in our homes on this festival. This is the festival of joy and happiness.”

There is very little independent information about what is happening in Kashmir because of the communication blackout. Tens of thousands of troop reinforcements have flooded the main city of Srinagar and other Kashmir towns and villages.

Last week police reportedly opened fire and used teargas to break up 10,000 protestors in Srinagar, the region’s main city, which took place after curfew rules were temporarily eased to allow people to attend Friday prayers. An Indian home affairs ministry official denied there were protests of any more than 20 people. The BBC later released a video showing huge crowds marching through the streets of Srinagar, as well as police opening fire and using teargas.

Curfew rules were introduced in Kashmir on Monday last week, just hours before the government announced it would revoke the territory’s autonomyand rules that prevent outsiders from buying land. Many Kashmiris fear the move would alter the demography of India’s only Muslim-majority state and its traditions.

It is unlikely people will be able to carry out many of the usual celebrations for Eid-al-Adha, one of the biggest events of the year in Kashmir. Typically, residents visit hundreds of neighbours, relatives and friends door-to-door to offer the meat of a sacrificed sheep or goat.

The security lockdown appears to be aimed at avoiding a backlash in Kashmir, where most people oppose Indian rule, and is expected to last until Thursday, India’s independence day.

Restrictions on movement were briefly lifted again over the weekend, allowing people to visit shops, but reimposed on Sunday afternoon. On TV news, jeeps were shown driving around the region, telling people to return to their homes and shopkeepers to shut markets.