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India's top court to hear legal challenges on Kashmir in October

  • Published at 08:25 pm August 28th, 2019
Kashmiri people walk past burning tyres during a protest after the scrapping of the special constitutional status for Kashmir by the Indian government, in Srinagar, August 27, 2019 Reuters

On Wednesday, a panel of judges headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, said the court would hear the petitions starting in the first week of October

India’s Supreme Court said on Wednesday it will hear challenges in October to a government order revoking the autonomy of contested Kashmir, and it allowed an opposition politician to visit the region that has been under lockdown for weeks.

India stripped the Muslim-majority region claimed by both India and Pakistan of its special status this month, and also divided Jammu and Kashmir state into two, to the fury of many of its residents.

More than a dozen petitions have been filed in the Supreme Court questioning the legality the action, which the government said was aimed at developing the region at the heart of animosity with Pakistan for decades.

On Wednesday, a panel of judges headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, said the court would hear the petitions starting in the first week of October.

"How the court decides these cases will have a deep bearing on the destiny of democracy in India,” Suhrith Parthasarathy, a Chennai-based lawyer, said in an article for the Hindu newspaper.

The court also ordered the federal government to submit a response within seven days to a plea by Anuradha Bhasin, the editor of the daily Kashmir Times, who has sought a relaxation of a government ban on telephone and internet services in Kashmir since August 5.

The Supreme Court also allowed Sitaram Yechury, head of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), to visit Kashmir to meet his colleague, Mohammed Yousuf Tarigami, a former lawmaker who is among hundreds of political workers and activists that the government has detained since the crackdown began.

Yechury was turned back from Srinagar airport when he tried to visit his colleague on August 9.

Some landline telephone connections that were restored last week. The government has said the restrictions were necessary to maintain law and order, but residents have expressed frustration and anger over the lockdown.

Hundreds of people have been queued up outside a government office in Kashmir's main city of Srinagar every day to make calls outside the region.

500 protests, hundreds injured 

At least 500 incidents of protest have broken out in Kashmir since New Delhi imposed a military clampdown more than three weeks ago, a senior government source told AFP yesterday.

The lockdown, as well as the deployment of tens of thousands of extra troops to reinforce the 500,000 based in Kashmir, was ordered amid fears of unrest in a region where an armed rebellion against Indian rule has been waged since 1989.

But protests have broken out, including in the main city of Srinagar, with police using pellet guns and tear gas to disperse the crowds.

A senior government source told AFP at least 500 protests and incidents of stone throwing have occurred since August 5, with more than half taking place in Srinagar.

Nearly 100 civilians have been injured so far, with a further 300 police and more than 100 paramilitary troopers hurt, the official added.

"The number of protests could be much higher and bigger without the blockade in force," the official told AFP, adding that "anger and public defiance is constantly rising."

"Efforts for easing the conditions are made all the time but nothing seems to be working for now. There is nervousness spreading in the security establishment."

At least 4,000 people have been detained across the valley, security and government sources told AFP last week, including businessmen, academics, activists and local politicians, with a few released since then.

A separate senior government official told AFP yesterday that at least 1,350 protesters - described by police as "stone-pelters" - have been arrested since August 5.

Pakistan may close airspace to India

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Imran Khan is considering closing Pakistan's airspace to India and blocking its eastern neighbour's land trade route to Afghanistan, the science and technology minister in Islamabad said on Tuesday.

Also Read: Pakistan threatens to close airspace, trade route for India

Pakistan reopened its airspace to India in mid-July, having closed it in February after an attack by a Pakistan-based Islamist militant group in Indian-controlled, Muslim-majority Kashmir that led to clashes between the nuclear-armed neighbours.

Bilateral tensions bubbled over again this month when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi government revoked Kashmir's special status, under which people from the rest of India could not buy property or compete for government jobs.

Pakistan's Science and Technology Minister Fawad Chaudhry said Khan was debating whether to close airspace to India and its land routes to Afghanistan.

"Legal formalities for these decisions are under consideration. Modi has started we'll finish!" Chaudhry said in a tweet.

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