Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 23 September 2019

Kashmir classrooms largely empty as some schools reopen

The move comes two weeks after India removed the region's autonomy

Classrooms remained sparse as some schools in Kashmir opened their doors again on Monday, two weeks after India removed the restive region’s autonomy and imposed a lockdown.

The authorities said that they were reopening 190 primary schools in the city, yet few youngsters were seen.

Pakistan said Indian fire across its de facto border on Sunday killed two civilians and seriously injured a child, a day after New Delhi said Pakistani fire killed an Indian soldier.

India on August 5 ended the special constitutional status of Muslim-majority Kashmir, where a 30-year uprising against Indian rule has killed tens of thousands of people, mostly civilians.

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

About 120,000 extra soldiers have been deployed, a security source said, joining about 500,000 already in the northern Himalayan region divided with Pakistan since 1947.

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

“Most of them were flown out of Kashmir because prisons here have run out of capacity,” a local magistrate said on condition of anonymity.

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

Officials said only that the “few preventive detentions” were made to avoid a “breach of the peace” and that there was “no centralised figure” for the total number.

On Sunday family members held a wake for timber trader Sidiq Khan, 62, who relatives said had suffocated after being exposed to tear gas fired by security forces in Srinagar.

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

After some easing in previous days, authorities on Sunday 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.

About 20 per cent of landlines were working on Monday. But mobile phones and the internet were still cut off.

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 work but many others did not. PTI also reported that only a handful of children had arrived.

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

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 district of Srinagar said 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,” said a teacher at one local school.

Updated: August 19, 2019 04:46 PM

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