Story updated at 3:50 AM
India's government said Monday it is revoking the special status of disputed Kashmir. The announcement early Monday comes amid a huge deployment of security forces to the Himalayan region.
Three top politicians in Indian Kashmir have been placed under house arrest and strict security measures have been ordered in the region where tensions have sparked after the government ordered visitors to evacuate and deployed more troops.
In a late night order Sunday, restrictions were placed on public movements in Kashmir, internet services suspended and educational institutions shut. The order said that indefinite security restrictions will be applicable in the main district of Kashmir’s capital, Srinagar.
The latest measures come as thousands of pilgrims and tourists have been leaving Kashmir since Friday when authorities said that militants backed by Pakistan were planning an attack on an annual Hindu pilgrimage. In an unprecedented step, the pilgrimage was halted.
Just days ago, about 10,000 additional paramilitary troops were deployed in major towns across the region.
The series of measures in Kashmir have sparked speculation that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government plans to revoke special privileges in the region, including one that prevents people from outside the state from buying property there.
The politicians under house arrest, who head regional political parties, have warned the government that any attempt to revoke these privileges could spark a backlash in India’s only Muslim majority region.
Hours before they were placed under house arrest, they held a meeting and in a statement vowed to fight to safeguard the special status and what they called the “identity” of Kashmir.
Mehbooba Mufti, who heads the regional People’s Democratic Party, said on Twitter it was “ironic that elected representatives like us who fought for peace are under house arrest. The world watches as people & their voices are being muzzled.”
Another leader, from the National Conference Party, Omar Abdullah, urged people to stay calm. “I've no idea what is in store for our state but it doesn't look good. I know many of you will be upset by what unfolds. Please don't take the law into your own hands, please stay calm," Omar Abdullah tweeted.
As panic has spread in the restive region, residents have been stocking up on food and gasoline.
The region has witnessed an armed rebellion since 1989 by militants fighting for either independence or Kashmir's merger with Pakistan.
The turmoil in Indian Kashmir coincides with heightened tensions along the line of control that divides the Himalayan region between India and Pakistan, with reports of cross border firing between their armies.