NEW DELHI: Indian-controlled Kashmir observed a shutdown Tuesday over the alleged ill-treatment of a separatist leader and the suspension of border trade with Pakistan.
Yasin Malik, chairman of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), was taken into custody as part of a major crackdown following a February attack in Pulwama that killed dozens of Indian security personnel.
India and Pakistan each administer part of Kashmir, but both claim it in its entirety. Rebels have been fighting Indian rule since 1989, demanding Indian-controlled Kashmir be united either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country. The Pulwama attack brought both nations to the brink of war and tensions have been running high since.
Tuesday’s strike, called by the Joint Resistance Leadership (JRL), saw the shutdown of all shops, businesses and traffic in protest at his detention and ill-treatment.
There is also anger that border trade with Pakistan has been suspended after the Indian government said that many of those trading across the Line of Control, which divides Kashmir into zones under Indian and Pakistani administration, had links to militant organizations.
“News about Yasin Malik being seriously ill and being shifted to a hospital in New Delhi is very disturbing,” JRL member Mirwaiz Umar Farooq told Arab News.
“The people of Kashmir are concerned about his safety and well-being. It’s sad that even his family and his lawyer are not allowed to meet him. It’s the responsibility of the state, under whose detention he is in, to ensure his well-being. It is unfortunate that the state is dealing with the political issue of Kashmir with muscular and military policy alone. This will not yield anything apart from more anger and alienation on the ground. Look at the elections. The dismal turnout proves how disenchanted and alienated common masses feel today,” said Farooq, referring to the low turnout of Kashmir voters in India’s mammoth general election.
Analysts said the arrest of activists was an attempt to sanitize the valley before polling day.
India has had three phases in its election and participation in Kashmir has been poor, with some suggesting a turnout of 15 percent compared to 34 percent in 2014.
The JRL said the shutdown was also a condemnation of the alleged “ongoing aggression of central investigation agencies against Kashmiri leaders, activists, senior businessmen, trade union leaders, kith and kin of resistance leaders and other people belonging to different walks of life.”
Its statement called the closure of the national highway for two days a week “undemocratic ... and a gross human rights violation.”
The JRL slammed the suspension of border trade and said it was putting “the lives and economy of thousands into jeopardy.”
Srinagar-based rights activists Parvez Imroz said what was happening in Kashmir amounted to political and economic repression.
“By suspending trade at the border many lives are at stake,” he told Arab News. “People who have invested heavily in business are staring at an uncertain future. The government is not leaving any breathing space for the people of Kashmir.”
He added that, despite the Indian government’s tactics and firepower, people had not been motivated to cast their vote.
“Kashmir is not a democracy but an occupation. How can you expect people to respond when New Delhi behaves like a colonial power?”
But the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said separatists had no right to question the government about the treatment of Kashmiri leaders.
“The separatist leaders never treated their own people well. They always tortured people who defied them. How come they expect good treatment at the hands of the Indian government?” Hina Bhat, a BJP leader in Srinagar, told Arab News.
She defended the ban on border trade, saying it could not continue unless the relationship between India and Pakistan normalized. She also put a positive spin on polling day, saying it was a success because it was “casualty-free.”
“No doubt people have some grudges and they are not happy with the previous government, but there is no need for disappointment as poll rates in other parts of the state have been good,” she added.