India officially eliminated Kashmir’s flag and constitution as its internet blackout goes into 13th week

India has officially eliminated the flag and constitution of the disputed state of Jammu and Kashmir as the total internet blackout on Kashmir goes into its 13th week.

The Indian government formally passed legislation on Thursday to remove the region's semi-autonomous status, which involves eliminating its own flag and constitution.

The legislation also divided Jammu and Kashmir state and downgraded them into two federally-governed territories under New Delhi's direct control. India said earlier this year that the states would eventually be able to hold their own elections.

Indian authorities on Thursday changed the name of the state-run radio station, Radio Kashmir Srinagar, to All India Radio Srinagar, the Associated Press (AP) reported. Srinagar is the largest city in Kashmir.

The Indian national flag flying next to a Jammu and Kashmir state flag on a government building in Srinagar on August 9, 2019.

Dar Yasin/AP

India announced the removal of Jammu and Kashmir's semi-autonomous status, which was enshrined in the country's 72-year-old constitution, in early August.

The announcement was coupled with a total communications blackout in Jammu and Kashmir, with internet and phone lines cut off, as well as a massive troop increase, severe curfews, and detentions. The region was already the most highly-militarized area in the world.

Since then, thousands of Kashmiris have protested and violently clashed with Indian security forces, with journalists and researchers reporting citizens being tortured, shot by police pellets, and even molested in midnight raids.

The Indian government has denied all these reports. It has also accused the media of fabricating news in Kashmir.

Stills from a BBC video, published in August, of two Kashmiri brothers showing injuries from what they said were beatings by Indian army officers.

BBC

Authorities have lifted some roadblocks and restored some phone lines in the region since August, the AP reported. Internet in Jammu has also returned, but the 12.5 million people living in Kashmir remain totally offline.

The Indian government cut off Kashmir's internet 134 times last year in an attempt to prevent anti-government protests.

A protest on the outskirts of Srinagar on August 23, 2019. The sign says: "We dream of an independent Kashmir."

Dar Yasin/AP

Before India revoked Jammu and Kashmir's semi-autonomous status, people in the mostly-Muslim state lived politically insular lives.

Under that special status, people from outside Jammu and Kashmir were not allowed to run for political office or buy property in the region, and daughters lost their land inheritance if they married people from outside the state.

Critics now fear that Indian Hindus will be able to move into Kashmir and alter its ethnic and religious makeup. Most people in the region either want independence or to be ruled by Pakistan.

India's Supreme Court is scheduled to begin hearings in early November on challenges to the constitutional change, the AP said. A decision will likely to take months.

A map showing Kashmir and the countries that control it.

Google Maps

India and Pakistan, both nuclear-armed states, both claim Kashmir in its entirety but rule other parts of the region.

Pakistan, which has previously funded insurgencies in the region, cut off all trade with India over the current crisis. He has also likened Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's actions in Kashmir to Nazi ideology.

China, which also rules part of the region, has opposed India's move.

In a Wednesday press conference, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang called the demotion of Jammu and Kashmir state to India-controlled territories "illegal and ineffective."

India's Ministry of External Affairs on Thursday told China to stay out of its internal affairs, saying that it should "respect India's sovereignty and territorial integrity," NDTV reported.

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