India Moves to Remove Kashmir’s Special Status Amid Crackdown

India Moves to Remove Kashmir’s Special Status Amid Crackdown

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SRINAGAR, Kashmir — The Indian government said on Monday that it intended to remove the special status that has been bestowed for decades on Kashmir, a disputed mountainous region along the India-Pakistan border.

Amit Shah, the home minister, made the announcement in Parliament on Monday morning.

Before the announcement, thousands of extra troops had already been deployed across the valley in anticipation of the news, and internet service was cut late Sunday. The Indian authorities also closed schools and evacuated tourists.

A sense of panic has spread across Kashmir as millions of residents woke up Monday to deserted streets. Relatives of Kashmiris who could be reached by phone said that many people were fearful about stepping outside and were waiting in their homes for news about what was going to happen next.

Many Kashmiris had feared that the Indian government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, was planning to remove the special status that governs Kashmir or turn Kashmir into a federally ruled territory, both moves that are likely to ignite turmoil.

Separatist groups, including some that are armed and maintain links to neighboring Pakistan, have been chafing for independence from India for years. Analysts say that any steps that reduce Kashmir’s autonomy could demoralize the Kashmir public further and provoke an outburst of serious violence.

[Why India and Pakistan keep fighting over Kashmir.]

Over the last few days, the authorities in Kashmir have been issuing satellite phones to senior police officers so they can communicate in case the cellphone network is disrupted, which happened around midnight going into Monday, according to widespread news reports.

The authorities have also restricted the movements of prominent Kashmiri political leaders, including Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti, according to many reports in the Indian news media.

Ms. Mufti, the most recent chief minister of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, which includes the Kashmir Valley, said in an interview before Mr. Shah’s announcement on Monday that Kashmiri politicians were coming together to defend against any possible moves by India to remove the special laws that grant limited autonomy to Kashmir under the Indian Constitution.

“There will be chaos if our identity is compromised,” Ms. Mufti said. “We will go to any extent to preserve that identity guaranteed under the India Constitution.”

Security officers have evacuated thousands of tourists, mostly Indians, telling them it was dangerous to be in the valley and that militant groups might be planning an attack.

Janvi Singh, an entrepreneur from Mumbai, saw her vacation suddenly cut short.

She had just arrived at her hotel in Gulmarg, a scenic mountainside town, on Friday when government officials knocked on the door of her room and told her she needed to leave immediately.

“They didn’t take no for an answer,” Ms. Singh said.

For decades, Kashmir has been plagued by turmoil. When India and Pakistan won independence from Britain in 1947, Kashmir originally opted to remain a small independent state. Kashmir is majority Muslim as is Pakistan, while India is majority Hindu.

But soon after independence, militants from Pakistan invaded Kashmir and Kashmir joined India for help. India and Pakistan then fought several wars over the area and today most of Kashmir is administered by India, with a smaller slice controlled by Pakistan.

Tensions reached a breaking point in February, when a Kashmiri militant rammed a vehicle filled with explosives into a convoy of Indian paramilitary forces traveling on a highway, killing at least 40 soldiers. A banned terrorist group, Jaish-e-Muhammad, which is based in Pakistan, claimed responsibility.

It was the worst attack in the region in three decades, and set off a tense military standoff between India and Pakistan that culminated in a dogfight between Indian and Pakistani warplanes. Pakistan shot down and captured an Indian pilot, who was soon handed back to India.

Over the last year, activists say, the hunt for separatists has intensified, pulling ordinary Kashmiris into the fold.

Indian Army officials said Friday that they had specific information about a planned attack by Pakistan-based militants on Hindu pilgrims and tourists.

But many Kashmiris were skeptical of those claims and wondered if there was another explanation for the sudden troop buildup in the region, already one of the most heavily militarized areas in the world.

Many residents are now panicking. People are hoarding supplies, causing shortages of medicine and baby food. Many fuel stations ran dry as thousands of people lined up through Friday and Saturday nights to fill their cars with gas.

“All the hotels in Gulmarg are empty,” said Muzamil Ahmad, director of an upscale hotel there.

Germany, one of the few Western countries that had earlier removed restrictions on travel to the region, issued a travel advisory asking its citizens to avoid the valley. Britain, Australia and Israel issued similar warnings.

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