NEW DELHI - Indian authorities say normalcy has returned in most areas in Indian Kashmir where New Delhi imposed a widespread clampdown after scrapping the Himalayan region's semi-autonomous status in August.
Home Minister Amit Shah’s statement in parliament Wednesday came in response to opposition lawmakers who criticized the shutdown of the internet and questioned the continued detention of scores of Kashmiri politicians, including an 82-year-old lawmaker.
The more than 7 million residents of Indian Kashmir have struggled to resume normal lives since tens of thousands of additional troops were deployed to the area and massive security restrictions imposed. Indian Kashmir is India's only Muslim majority, militancy-hit region.
Shah said a curfew has been lifted, schools and colleges are open, there is no shortage of medicines, food or fuel and the law and order situation has improved with not a single person killed due to police gunfire since August.
“There were many notions spread all over the world. There is total normalcy prevailing,” according to the Home minister.
Opposition lawmaker Ghulam Nabi Azad told parliament the more than three-month-long internet shutdown unprecedented. The government has defended it, saying national security and the fight against terrorism are more important. Authorities say the separatists can use the internet and social media to fuel anti-India protests.
According to Shah, the number of incidents of stone throwing, a popular protest tactic in the region, has dropped from 805 last year to 544 this year.
The situation in Kashmir has improved – markets which used to open for a part of the day are now open for longer periods daily and public transport has returned to the streets.
Residents, however, say lack of access to the internet and restrictions on some mobile services are still hampering the resumption of day-to-day life and business activities.
“People do not know, forget about the whole world, even in the rest of India, people are not aware that there are still restrictions on the ground and businesses cannot operate,” says Sheikh Ashiq Ahmad, president of the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
The region’s main trade body has estimated that business losses have exceeded $1.4 billion since the August clampdown.
New Delhi postponed an investor summit it had planned in Kashmir last month after a spate of attacks blamed on militants in recent weeks. Many tourists have also shunned the picturesque region.
“Development is good, future investment is good, but what about the present businesses which are bleeding?” Ashiq Ahmad asked.
India defended its dramatic move, saying it needed to integrate the Himalayan region with the rest of the country, usher in development and end the separatist insurgency that has killed tens of thousands of people.