Authorities in Indian-occupied Kashmir say that restrictions — that had been in place since last week — have been eased in most parts of Srinagar ahead of the Eidul Azha festival following India’s decision to strip the region of its constitutional autonomy.
Magistrate Shahid Choudhary in a tweet says that more than 250 ATMs have been made functional and bank branches have opened for people to withdraw money ahead of Monday’s Eidul Azha, that falls on Monday.
There has been no immediate independent confirmation of reports by authorities on Sunday that people are visiting shopping areas for festival purchases as all communications and the internet remain cut off.
The Kashmir Media Service, however, has reported that the curfew is still in place and the occupied region continues to face a blackout for the seventh day.
Kashmiri fighters have been fighting New Delhi’s rule for decades in the occupied territory, and most Kashmiri residents want either independence or a merger with Pakistan.
Gov Satya Pal Malik said in interviews with television networks that there would be easing of restrictions and adequate essential supplies for Monday’s Eidul Azha festival.
His comments came as India’s main opposition leader, Rahul Gandhi, on Saturday demanded a statement from Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the situation in occupied Kashmir, saying there are reports of violence and people dying.
Talking to reporters in New Delhi, Gandhi said “things are going very wrong there”, and called for the Indian government to make clear what is happening.
Authorities in Srinagar, the region’s main city, said there have been instances of stone pelting by protesters but no gun firing by security forces in the past six days. Television images on Saturday showed movement of cars and people in some parts of occupied Kashmir.
“There has been no untoward incident barring minor stone-pelting, which was dealt with on the spot and was nipped in the bud,” Director General of Police Dilbagh Singh told the Press Trust of India news agency.
On Thursday, Modi assured the people of Indian-occupied Jammu and Kashmir that normalcy would gradually return and that the government was ensuring that the current restrictions do not dampen the of Eidul Azha on Monday.
New Delhi rushed tens of thousands of additional soldiers to one of the world’s most militarised regions to prevent unrest and protests after Modi’s Hindu nationalist-led government said on Monday that it was revoking occupied Kashmir’s special constitutional status and downgrading its statehood. Modi said the move was necessary to free the region of “terrorism and separatism”.
The indefinite 24-hour curfew was briefly eased on Friday for weekly Muslim prayers in some parts of Srinagar, but thousands of residents are still forced to stay indoors with shops and most health clinics closed. All communications and the internet remain cut off.
Following Friday prayers, police used tear gas and pellets to fight back the protesters who gathered in their largest numbers since authorities clamped down and detained more than 500 political and separatist leaders.
Other stone-throwing incidents were reported from the northern and southern parts of occupied Kashmir.
Authorities were closely watching for any anti-India protests, which will determine a further easing of restrictions for the Eid holiday.
The region’s top administrative official, Baseer Khan, said that essential commodities including food, grains and meat will be delivered to different parts of the region by Sunday.
In the meantime, most residents have been waking up before dawn to get food and other supplies stockpiled by neighbourhood shopkeepers and pharmacists inside their homes. Shortly after dawn, police and paramilitary soldiers swiftly occupy the roads and streets as part of the restrictions on movement.
While some easing on the movement and opening of shops is expected around Eid, officials still held reservations about restoring mobile and internet services. Some relaxation of curbs on landline communication, however, could be considered, they said.
Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi met with his Chinese counterpart and other top officials in Beijing on Saturday. He said that China fully supports Pakistan in taking the Kashmir issue to the UN Security Council.
He also said Pakistan is considering going to the UN Human Rights Commission over the situation.
“When a demographic change is made through force, it’s called genocide, and you are moving toward genocide,” he told reporters in Islamabad after returning from Beijing.
With India moving to erase the constitutional provision that prohibited outsiders from buying property in the occupied Jammu and Kashmir state, Indians from the rest of the country can now purchase real estate and apply for government jobs there. Some fear this may lead to a demographic and cultural change in the Muslim-majority region.
Qureshi said that India’s moves have increased the threat to regional peace and raised fears of bloodshed in Kashmir.
He also said that while Pakistan is not planning to take any military action, it is ready to counter any potential aggression by India. The Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan, Ajay Bisaria, was expelled on Saturday night. Fourteen other Indian mission officials and their families were also left Islamabad, airport official Mohammad Wasim Ahmed said.
Also on Saturday, a regional political party from Kashmir petitioned the Supreme Court to strike down the government’s move to scrap the region’s special status and divide the state into two federal territories. The National Conference in its plea claimed the move was illegal. An opposition Congress party activist has already filed a petition challenging the communications blockade and the detentions of Kashmiri leaders.
The United States on Friday said that there has been no change in its policy on Kashmir, as Washington continues to regard it as a territory disputed between India and Pakistan.
State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus described Kashmir as “certainly an incredibly important issue” that the US continued to “follow closely”.