SRINAGAR, Kashmir — On the streets of Srinagar, Kashmir’s biggest city, security officers tied black bandannas over their faces, grabbed their guns and took positions behind checkpoints. People glanced out the windows of their homes, afraid to step outside. Many were cutting back on meals and getting hungry.
A sense of coiled menace hung over the locked-down city and the wider region on Saturday, a day after a huge protest erupted into clashes between Kashmiris and Indian security forces.
Shops were shut. A.T.M.s had run dry. Just about all lines to the outside world — internet, mobile phones, even landlines — remained severed, rendering millions of people incommunicado.
Correspondents for The New York Times got one of the first inside views of life under lockdown in Kashmir and found a population that felt besieged, confused, frightened and furious by the seismic events of this week.
People who ventured out said they had to beg officers to cross a landscape of sandbags, battered trucks and soldiers staring at them through metal face masks. Several residents said they had been beaten up by security forces for simply trying to buy necessities like milk.
India’s swift and unilateral decision Monday to wipe out Kashmir’s autonomy significantly raised tensions with its archrival, Pakistan, which also claims parts of Kashmir. The territory lying between the two nuclear armed nations was already one of Asia’s most dangerous and militarized flash points, smoldering for decades.
Anything dramatic or provocative that happens here — and India’s move was widely seen as both — instantly sends a jolt of anxiety across this entire region.
On Friday afternoon, witnesses said tens of thousands of peaceful demonstrators were moving through the streets of Srinagar, chanting freedom slogans and waving Kashmiri flags, when Indian forces opened fire.ImageThe police detaining an activist of the Jammu and Kashmir Youth Congress during a protest against the Indian government in Jammu on Saturday.Credit…Rakesh Bakshi/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
The huge crowd panicked and scattered. Sustained bursts of automatic weapon fire could be heard in videos filmed during the protest, and at least seven people were wounded, hospital officials said, some sprayed by buckshot in the eyes.
Afshana Farooq, a 14-year-old girl, was nearly trampled in the stampede.
“We were just marching peacefully after prayers,” said her father, Farooq Ahmed, standing over her as she lay shaking in a Srinagar hospital bed. “Then they started shooting at us.”
India has put Kashmir, home to about eight million people, in a tightening vise, after India’s Hindu nationalist prime minister, Narendra Modi, swept away the autonomy that this mountainous, Muslim-majority region had enjoyed for decades.
His decision was years in the making, the collision of India’s rising nationalist politics, frustration with Kashmir’s dogged separatists and a long-running rivalry with Pakistan.
For the past three decades, the Kashmir Valley, part of the region controlled by India, has been a conflict zone, a restive area chafing for independence. In the 1990s, Pakistan opened the floodgates for jihadists to cross the border, setting off years of heavy fighting.