Kashmir residents say they are starving as first accounts of India’s lock-down of region emerge

Fears are growing of food shortages among Kashmir’s poorest residents as the region enters the third day of an unprecedented lock-down.

In some of the first accounts to surface after India shocked the world by stripping the area of Kashmir’s special status, witnesses have told The Telegraph of mounting desperation as food supplies and money has dried up.

India announced a strict curfew and communications blackout on Monday, with the movement of goods and people in and out of the region also strictly controlled.

But panic buying last week, as rumours circulated of an imminent curfew, saw shelves stripped of food, ATM’s emptied and prices rocket – leaving many of Kashmir’s poorest without key supplies.

Sanna, 23, a Kashmiri student, was one of few residents to have been allowed to leave the region so far. When leaving she told The Telegraph she had been approached by “five or six” different people who claimed their families were starving.

Indian migrant workers wait outside the government transport yard as they seek to buy bus tickets out of KashmirCredit:

Recalling the panic buying, she said: “Everyone flooded into the grocery markets, the livestock markets, the spice markets; thousands and thousands of people buying essentials.

“Gas stations had cars lined up from blocks and the bank ran out of cash because people had got so much out of ATMs.”  

Muzamil Jaleel, the Deputy Editor of the Indian Express, told The Telegraph he had also visited around ten different neighbourhoods in Srinagar and every ATM was out of money.  

Residents are now surviving with what they had to hand and many of the state’s poorest residents have no cash savings. 

Kashmiri residents have been entirely cut off from the outside world since the Indian government scrapped legislation on Monday that had granted the state’s population autonomy since 1947. 

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Activists of the 'Youth Forum for Kashmir' group shout slogans as they burn a picture of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in LahoreCredit:

Media and television reports have been severely restricted to state sanctioned broadcasts. One top Indian official denied there were shortages, saying the “Kashmir Valley has more than three months’ food supply”.

Activists say the blackout – which includes mobile networks, internet and landlines – is allowing the Indian authorities to act with impunity by detaining those in opposition to the removal of Article 370. Article 370 had allowed Kashmiris to self-govern themselves excluding foreign policy and forbade non-Kashmiris from settling in the state and buying land.

Opponents of the Indian Government say the ruling BJP party intends to change the region’s demographics by encouraging Hindu migration.

Sanna said the blackout triggered widespread chaos and confusion. “It was a very painful, very scary mess,” she said..

“You are going to muzzle us and blind us and then you are going to make your decision behind this tall black wall that you have carved out between Kashmir and everyone else.”

A senior official within the Jammu and Kashmir administration told news agency PTI over 100 people had been arrested so far.

This includes two former state Chief Ministers, Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah.

A source told AFP that at least six people had been admitted to hospital in Srinagar with gunshot wounds while sporadic protests had erupted across the state.

Several deaths have also been reported although this is difficult to confirm due to the blackout.

The curfew which has been implemented since Monday morning is also contributing to growing hunger as residents are too scared to leave their homes.

A Kashmiri source living outside the state told The Telegraph her parents had been informed they would be shot on sight if seen out in public.

“You know you have to listen because there is 30 men in a 20 foot area with giant AK-47s so you are not going to try and pick a fight,” Sanna said. “It didn’t matter where you were, if you walked five minutes in any direction they would tell you to go back home.”

She said Kashmiris could only leave their homes to travel to the airport or the hospital, and she had struggled to leave even though she had a plane ticket purchased before the crackdown.

“[The hardest thing] was that man with his brother’s bone X-Rays just crying, trying to get to the hospital and being denied,” she said.

A 22-year-old man in Srinagar was picked up by a passing car driver after being hit by a speeding vehicle. The driver said he attempted to take him to hospital but that he was stopped at a checkpoint and not allowed to proceed. By the time an ambulance reached the injured man, he had already died. 

“Your every movement is trapped, you’re worried that even if you look a little bit threatening it will be enough to cause violence upon you,” said Sanna. “It is just that culture of fear, it is very harrowing.”

Pakistan, which also claims ownership of Jammu and Kashmir in its entirety, escalated its unyielding response to the removal of Article 370 today.

It announced it would be suspending bilateral trade with Delhi and expelling the Indian High Commissioner, as well as taking its objections to the United Nations Security Council.

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