Thousands of Indian troops imposed a curfew in Kashmir yesterday, with razor wire and steel barricades blocking main roads a day ahead of the one-year anniversary of the restive region being stripped of its autonomy.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi imposed direct rule last August 5, promising peace and prosperity after three decades of violence that have seen tens of thousands of people killed in an anti-India uprising.
Officials announced a two-day "full curfew" on Monday citing intelligence reports of looming protests in the Muslim-majority region of seven million people, where locals have called for the anniversary to be marked as a "black day".
Police vehicles fitted with megaphones patrolled the city of Srinagar, with officers ordering residents to remain indoors. Yesterday, thousands of troops fanned across the city and surrounding villages.
For locals, the new curfew brought back memories of the weeks-long clampdown a year ago. Then, a total communications blackout was imposed, with phone and internet access cut and tens of thousands of fresh troops moved into the valley -- already one of the world's most militarised regions.
Around 7,000 people were taken into custody -- including three former chief ministers. Hundreds remain under house arrest or behind bars to this day, mostly without charge.
The move to scrap Kashmir's special status, which has been accompanied by an upsurge in violence that is set to make 2020 the bloodiest year in a decade, has triggered major economic hardship exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.
Many locals are also angry that for the first time, people from outside Kashmir are being granted rights to buy land, fearing that India wants to change the region's demographic makeup.
"Indian government claims that it was determined to improve Kashmiri lives ring hollow one year after the revocation of Jammu and Kashmir's constitutional status," Meenakshi Ganguly from Human Rights Watch said in a statement. "The authorities instead have maintained stifling restraints on Kashmiris in violation of their basic rights."
Kashmir has been split since 1947 between India and Pakistan, both of which claim it in full. it has been the spark for two wars between the arch-rivals.
In Pakistan, Prime Minister Imran Khan is expected to visit Muzaffarabad, capital of Pakistan-administered Kashmir, today to mark what Islamabad has labelled the "Day of Exploitation". Anti-India protests are planned throughout Pakistani Kashmir while all major cities in Pakistan will hold solidarity marches, along with a one-minute silence.