A security person stands guard at a deserted street during a security lockdown in Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Monday, Aug. 12, 2019. Troops in India-administered Kashmir allowed some Muslims to walk to local mosques alone or in pairs to pray for the Eid al-Adha festival on Monday during an unprecedented security lockdown that still forced most people in the disputed region to stay indoors on the Islamic holy day. (AP Photo/Mukhtar Khan)

Troops let Muslims walk to mosques in Indian-ruled Kashmir

August 12, 2019 - 7:55 am

SRINAGAR, India (AP) — Troops in India-administered Kashmir allowed some Muslims to walk to local mosques alone or in pairs to pray for the Eid al-Adha festival on Monday during an unprecedented security lockdown that still forced most people in the disputed region to stay indoors on the Islamic holy day.

Some protesters demonstrated against the Indian government's surprise revocation of Muslim-majority Kashmir's special status last week. All communications and the internet remained cut off for an eighth day. The streets were deserted, with authorities not allowing any large groups to gather to avoid anti-India protests.

"Our hearts are on fire," said Habibullah Bhat, 75, who said he came to offer prayers despite his failing health. "India has thrown us into the dark ages, but God is on our side and our resistance will win."

Hundreds of worshippers gathered on a street in a neighborhood in Srinagar after the prayers and chanted "We want freedom" and "Go India, Go back," witnesses said. Officials said the protest ended peacefully.

Elsewhere, two people were injured in violent incidents, senior police officer S.P. Pani said. He did not provide any details.

Independent verification of events in the region was difficult because of the communications shutdown.

India's foreign ministry shared photos of people visiting mosques but didn't specify where the photos were taken within the region, which New Delhi downgraded from a state to two federal territories a week ago.

Vijay Keshav Gokhale, the ministry's top diplomat, said communications restrictions "will be gradually eased when we feel the law and order situation improves."

He said most mosques were open but some were not for security reasons.

He told reporters there were "no reports of starvation" and that medical facilities, utilities and banking services were functioning normally.

The security lockdown in India's only Muslim-majority region is expected to last through Thursday, India's independence day. The restrictions had been briefly eased for Friday prayers last week and for shopping ahead of Eid.

Meanwhile, Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and opposition leader Bilawal Bhutto Zardari expressed support for people in the Indian-administered portion of Kashmir to have self-determination. Both visited the Pakistani-controlled portion of Kashmir for Eid.

India and Pakistan have fought two wars over control of Kashmir, and the first one ended in 1948 with a promise of a U.N.-sponsored referendum in the territory. It has never been held.

Qureshi urged the international community to take notice of "Indian atrocities and human rights violations in Kashmir." He said Islamabad was trying its best to highlight the Kashmir issue internationally and expose Indian "cruelties" in the region.

Thousands of additional troops were sent to the disputed Himalayan region before India's Hindu nationalist-led government said last Monday that it was revoking Kashmir's special constitutional status and downgrading its statehood.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in an address to the nation that the move would free the territory of "terrorism and separatism" and accused Indian archrival Pakistan of fomenting unrest.

Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan but claimed in full by both. Rebels have been fighting Indian rule in the portion it administers for decades.

Restrictions, security lockdowns and information blackouts are nothing new for Kashmiris. The region witnessed months of clampdowns during massive public uprisings against Indian rule in 2008, 2010 and 2016. However, this is the first time that landline phones have been cut off, intensifying hardship.

Frequent separatist calls for general strikes and protests are routinely met with security lockdowns.

Kashmiris have learned to figure out ways to survive the hardships of incarceration inside their homes. Residents are also used to stockpiling essentials, a practice usually undertaken during harsh winter months when roads and communications lines often remain snapped.

Over a million people live in the area under security siege in Srinagar.

Residents have begun to face shortages of food and other necessities as shops remain shuttered and public movement is restricted. Parents have struggled to entertain their children who are unable to go to school. Patients have faced shortages of prescription drugs.

Authorities say they have made cash available in ATMs so that residents could take out money to buy essentials for Eid.

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Associated Press journalists Ashok Sharma and Emily Schmall in New Delhi and Roshan Mughal in Muzaffarabad, Pakistan, contributed to this report.