Empty classrooms as some schools re-open in Indian occupied Kashmir

Occupied Srinagar, Aug 19 (AFP/APP):Some schools in Indian occupied Kashmir re-opened on Monday but were largely empty following weekend clashes in Srinagar, two weeks after India removed the restive region’s autonomy and imposed a lockdown.

The authorities said they were re-opening 190 primary schools in the city yet few children could be seen at half a dozen locations visited by AFP.

India on August 5 ended the special constitutional status of Muslim-majority Kashmir, where a 30-year-old freedom movement against Indian rule has claimed tens of thousands of lives of mostly civilians.

Hours before its move, India severely curtailed movement and shut down phones and the Internet, bringing in tens of thousands of troops to turn the main city of Srinagar into a fortress.

Some 120,000 extra soldiers have been deployed, a security source told AFP, joining around 500,000 already in the northern Himalayan region.

At least 4,000 people have also been detained under the Public Safety Act (PSA), which allows imprisonment for up to two years without charge or trial, government sources said.

Authorities have declined to comment on the numbers of people behind bars. Those picked up include local politicians, activists, business leaders and lawyers.

Around 20 percent of landlines were working on Monday, an AFP reporter said. But mobile phones and the Internet were still cut off.

– ‘Self-determination’ –
On Sunday family members held a wake for timber trader Sidiq Khan, 62, who relatives said had died after suffocating from tear gas fired by security forces in Srinagar.

A senior government official told AFP that a man in his mid-60s had died, and that a post-mortem “has not revealed any external or internal marks of injury”.

After some easing in previous days, authorities reinforced heavy restrictions after eight people were injured during protests.

The Press Trust of India news agency cited unnamed officials saying there had been clashes in a dozen locations around Srinagar on Saturday.

Late Sunday, AFP attended one protest in Srinagar, where demonstrators shared their anger about New Delhi’s decision and the lockdown.

“Is it independence, keeping the people inside their places and doing whatever they want to do?… They are just violating all the human rights that a person has,” one protester who wore a motorcycle helmet and face mask to protect his identity told AFP.

Another demonstrator, who also asked to remain anonymous, said locals did not want economic development, as New Delhi has claimed, but the right to self-determination.

“The fact is that Kashmiri people are demanding their birthright — the right to self-determination. For this right, the people of Kashmir are sacrificing their lives since a long time now… freedom of speech, freedom of their will,” he told AFP.

– No kids –
In Srinagar on Monday most main streets and markets were deserted, although some roads looked busier than in recent days.

Some teachers and administrative staff made it to schools but many others didn’t. PTI also reported that only a handful of children had come.

“We didn’t receive an official notification for re-opening the school from the local government but opened it after watching the news yesterday,” a senior official at Srinagar’s Burn Hall School told AFP.

Many schools stayed shut, with guards at the gate turning away any teachers or administrative staff who turned up.

“I don’t think parents will send their children to school if they can’t communicate and check on them whenever required,” a resident of the Rajbagh area of Srinagar told AFP outside the Presentation Convent School.

“I came here after watching the news yesterday but it doesn’t look like any students have come to school today. There are many other teachers who stay farther away and haven’t made it here,” one of the teachers at a local school told AFP.

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