Authorities enforcing a strict curfew in Indian-administered Kashmir will bring in trucks of essential supplies for an Islamic festival next week, as the divided Himalayan region remained in lockdown following India's decision to strip it of its constitutional autonomy.
The indefinite 24-hour curfew was briefly eased on Friday for weekly Muslim prayers in some parts of Srinagar, the region's main city, but thousands of residents are still forced to stay indoors with shops and most health clinics closed. All communications and the internet remain cut off.
Kashmir is claimed in its entirety by both India and Pakistan and is divided between the archrivals. Rebels have been fighting New Delhi's rule for decades in the Indian-controlled portion, and most Kashmiri residents want either independence or a merger with Pakistan.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday assured the people of Jammu and Kashmir, as the state is known, that normalcy would gradually return and that the government was ensuring the current restrictions do not dampen the Islamic festival of Eid al-Adha on Monday.
New Delhi rushed tens of thousands of additional soldiers to one of the world's most militarized regions to prevent unrest and protests after Modi's Hindu nationalist-led government said Monday it was revoking Kashmir's special constitutional status and downgrading its statehood. Modi said the move was necessary to free the region of "terrorism and separatism."
The relaxing of the curfew in Srinagar was temporary, officials said. Friday prayers began at 12:37 p.m. and lasted for about 20 minutes, followed by protests in some parts of the city. Police used tear gas and pellets to fight back the protesters who gathered in their largest numbers since authorities clamped down and detained more than 500 political and separatist leaders.
Other stone-throwing incidents were reported from northern and southern parts of Kashmir.
Authorities were closely watching for any anti-India protests, which will determine a further easing of restrictions for the Eid holiday.
The top administrative official, Baseer Khan, said that essential commodities including food, grains and meat will be delivered to different parts of the region by Sunday.
In the meantime, most residents were waking up before dawn to get food and other supplies stockpiled by neighborhood shopkeepers and pharmacists inside their homes. Shortly after dawn, police and paramilitary soldiers swiftly occupy the roads and streets as part of the restrictions on movement.
While some easing on the movement and opening of shops is expected around Eid, officials are still holding reservations against restoring mobile and internet services. Some relaxation of curbs on landline communication, however, could be considered, they said.
On Saturday, a regional political party from Kashmir petitioned the Supreme Court to strike down the government's move to scrap the region's special status and divide the state into two federal territories. The National Conference in its plea claimed the move was illegal. An opposition Congress party activist has already filed a petition challenging the communications blockade and the detentions of Kashmiri leaders.
Hundreds of migrant laborers from other Indian states also have fled in fear of unrest. Meanwhile, thousands of villagers living along the heavily militarized Line of Control dividing Pakistani and Indian-controlled Kashmir have migrated to safer places in fear of artillery fire exchanges between the rivals.
The United States on Friday said that there has been no change in its policy on Kashmir, as Washington continues to regard it as a territory disputed between India and Pakistan.
State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus described Kashmir as "certainly an incredibly important issue" that the United States continued to "follow closely."
In Islamabad on Friday, about 8,000 supporters of the Pakistani Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami marched toward the Indian Embassy to denounce New Delhi's action on Kashmir. Hundreds of activists held similar peaceful rallies across Pakistan.
Pakistan says it is considering a proposal to approach the International Court of Justice over India's action. It also has downgraded diplomatic ties with New Delhi, expelled the Indian ambassador and suspended trade, train and bus services with India.
India's External Affairs Ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar asked Pakistan to reconsider its decision, but he also said it should accept the reality and "stop interfering in internal affairs of other countries."