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India’s Top Court Asks Government to Return Normal Life to Kashmir

Indian policemen stand guard outside the residence of National Conference president Farooq Abdullah in Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Sept. 16, 2019.
Indian policemen stand guard outside the residence of National Conference president Farooq Abdullah in Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Sept. 16, 2019.

Six weeks after the Indian government imposed a partial clampdown in Kashmir, the Supreme Court directed authorities to “make the very best endeavor” to return normal life to the disputed Himalayan region. Judges also asked the Indian government to ensure smooth functioning of schools, hospitals and public transport.

The Supreme Court did not order the government to take specific actions to address the crisis.

India imposed a security lockdown and communication restrictions in the restive region on August 5, after scrapping its partial autonomy and bringing it directly under New Delhi’s control.

Since then some curbs have been eased and most landlines have been restored. But the Kashmir valley continues to be largely shuttered, and mobile and internet services are still blocked. Although schools have opened, most students are not attending classes. An estimated 1,000 people including regional political leaders are in detention.

The court’s ruling came in response to petitioners who have challenged the restrictions in the state calling them “draconian.”

They include editor Anuradha Bhasin, who told VOA that she is still not able to print the Srinagar edition of her newspaper, Kashmir Times, due to the clampdown on mobile phones and the internet.

She noted the difficulty in putting out a newspaper with only landlines functioning.

"More than 40 days have already passed by and the process of restoring communications has been a very slow one,” Bhasin said.

India's top court has said normalcy must be restored “keeping national security in mind.”

The government told the court the restrictions are needed to maintain law and order and have argued such measures have already prevented widespread casualties like those during previous periods of unrest in the region.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed in a three-decade long violent separatist insurgency that has wracked Kashmir.

“Not a single bullet has been fired, there has been no loss of life," the government’s lawyer, Tushar Mehta, told the court.

Since the dramatic announcement that changed Kashmir’s status, two deaths have been reported but there are conflicting accounts about what caused the fatalities. A teenager, Asrar Ahmad Khan, died in Srinagar earlier this month — locals say the injuries that caused his death were suffered when security forces fired with pellets and tear gas, but the government says he was hit by stone pelters.

A 60-year-old shopkeeper was also shot dead last month while sitting inside his shop. The government says he was killed by armed militants because he did not heed warnings by militant groups to keep shops closed.

Police officials say that militant groups have been distributing pamphlets warning people against opening shops, banks and petrol stations and this is preventing a return to normalcy.

With the Indian government placing restrictions on journalists traveling to or reporting from Kashmir, authorities' claims, and that of local residents, are difficult to verify.

Kashmir, which is disputed by India and Pakistan is India’s only Muslim majority region. New Delhi accuses Islamic militant groups based in Pakistan of fomenting a violent anti-India insurgency in Kashmir and says that it brought the Himalayan region under its direct control to end “terrorism” and bring development to the Himalayan region.