NEW DELHI - Some schools reopened in Indian Kashmir’s summer capital, Srinagar, on Monday in an effort to ease the unprecedented two-week lockdown in the Himalayan region, but classrooms remained virtually empty as parents were fearful of sending children out.
“We appeal to parents to send their children wherever schools have been reopened. Security is our responsibility,” Shahid Iqbal Choudhary, Srinagar’s top administrative officer, had said.
The government had announced that classes would resume at nearly 200 elementary that were closed after Indian-controlled Kashmir was virtually shut down since it was stripped of its autonomous status and brought under New Delhi’s direct control.
Several residents, however, told reporters that with communication links still down, they preferred to keep children at home due to fears of unrest. “It is better that they first restore mobile phone networks; only then can our child go to school safely,” one parent told an Indian television network.
Some landlines have been restored in the Kashmir valley, but mobile phones and the internet are still cut off.
Government offices reopened Monday and a smattering of traffic returned to the city’s heavily guarded streets. Some public buses are operating in rural areas and officials say they have begun to lift restrictions.
“It’s a step-by-step calibrated process, but the movement is certainly in the direction of further easing,” said Rohit Kansal, principal secretary in Srinagar, on Sunday.
But on the ground, the region continues to be largely shuttered. Markets are still closed and few people are venturing out of their homes amid reports of scattered protests in several parts of the city.
Authorities reimposed curbs in Srinagar on Sunday after reports of weekend clashes involving hundreds of residents and police in several neighborhoods.
Officials have given little information about the demonstrations that have taken place or the number of people who have been arrested since the strict security clampdown. India has defended the crackdown, saying it is necessary to avoid violence.
Hundreds of activists, politicians and separatist leaders are under arrest. The French news agency (AFP) has quoted an unidentified local official as saying that 4,000 people are in detention.
India’s dramatic move to end Kashmir’s autonomy has deepened tensions with its rival Pakistan, which has fiercely opposed the step in the disputed region that is split between the two but claimed by both.
New Delhi appeared to toughen its stand with Pakistan on Sunday with Defense Minister Rajnath Singh stating that there would be no talks with its rival until Pakistan clamped down on anti-India militant groups based in its territory. He also said any negotiations would only focus on Pakistani Kashmir.
India has defended its move to change Kashmir’s status saying it was necessary to integrate it with the rest of the country and end terrorism, but critics fear it could deepen resentment and anger in the region where a three-decade violent separatist insurgency has killed tens of thousands.
Kashmir has been a regional flashpoint for decades. India and Pakistan, both nuclear powers, have fought wars over Kashmir since they gained independence from Britain in 1947.