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India independence day celebration takes place under strict security in Kashmir

Drones and helicopters fly above heavily fortified cricket stadium as Indian flag unfurled

WT24 Desk

A ceremony in Kashmir to mark India’s independence day had been held under strict security inside a heavily fortified cricket stadium while residents remained under curfew, Agencies report.

Drones and helicopters flew overhead as Satya Pal Malik, the Jammu and Kashmir governor, unfurled an Indian flag on Thursday. The ceremony is usually watched by Kashmiri politicians, but many are reportedly under house arrest.

Hundreds of people are believed to have been arrested since the Indian government revoked Kashmir’s special status last week.

Hasina, the mother of Irfan Amin Malik, a 26-year-old journalist, confirmed he had been detained. The Kashmiri politician Shah Faesal was also arrested in Delhi on Wednesday. Faesal had said before being detained that Kashmir faced an existential battle.

Curfew rules affecting millions of residents were strengthened on Thursday for fear of protests, which are common in Kashmir on India’s independence day. The internet and phone lines were blocked for an 11th day.

The restrictions are placing increasing strain on the most vulnerable residents in Kashmir, where there are already shortages of medicines in local pharmacies and workers are struggling to survive.

A young man from southern Qazigund town, who works in Srinagar, said he had no money left to feed his family.

“I have not been able to find any work for the last 10 days. I don’t have any money left to buy milk for my children. Don’t think I am a beggar, I have a post-graduate degree,” he said, struggling to hold back his tears.

India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, claimed in his independence day address in Delhi that Kashmir’s previous status had allowed corruption and separatism to fester. The action taken by his government would bring justice to the territory, he said.

“The old arrangement in Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh encouraged corruption, nepotism” and “injustice when it came to rights of women, children, Dalits, tribal communities,” Modi said in the speech marking 72 years since India achieved independence from British rule.

Daily protests have erupted in Kashmir, but the move to assert control over the territory has received widespread public support in other parts of India. “Article 370 should have been removed a long time ago, but better late than never,” Amarjeet Singh, a businessman from Delhi, said. “It is good. Everyone will be benefited by this, because every common man will be able to work there and start business there.”

Delhi’s decision strips the disputed state of Kashmir and Jammu of any elements of autonomy, removing its constitution and flag, and scrapping laws that prevented outsiders from buying land. The state will also be split in two. Many Kashmiris fear it will alter the demography of the country’s only Muslim-majority state.

India’s foreign ministry officials have said the territory is returning to normality, but there was little indication of that on the streets of Srinagar, which remain under lockdown.

Hasina said that armed uniformed personnel climbed the walls of the family home in southern town of Tral at 11.30 pm on Wednesday and asked for Malik. “It was as if they came to arrest a militant,” she said. “They said they wanted to take Irfan along with them. I tried to resist but they did not relent and took him away.”

She has since met him at a police station. “He was very nervous and he feared that they could take him to jail outside Kashmir and no one would know,” she said.

Other politicians and activists have reportedly been held in temporary detention centres.

The Indian government’s announcement has led to an escalation in tensions with Pakistan, which also claims Kashmir and has fought two wars with India over the region. Pakistan’s prime minister, Imran Khan, threatened on Wednesday to “teach Delhi a lesson” and vowed to fight until the end against any Indian violations.

The country’s army was preparing to respond to anticipated Indian aggression, he said. He has previously compared the Indian government to Nazis and suggested they might carry out ethnic cleansing.

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