India on Thursday formally implemented legislation approved by Parliament in early August that removes Indian-controlled Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status and begins direct federal rule of the disputed area amid a harsh security lockdown and widespread public disenchantment.
The legislation divides the former state of Jammu-Kashmir into two federally governed territories.
Government forces were on high alert to prevent anti-India protests or rebel attacks, though no incidents were reported until noon.
Tens of thousands of police and paramilitary soldiers fanned out across the region, patrolling streets and manning checkpoints. Shops, schools and businesses have remained closed since August and streets were largely deserted.
G.C. Murmu, a new civilian administrator appointed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government with the title of lieutenant governor, assumed office on Thursday. The region previously was headed by a governor.
Indian authorities also changed the name of the state-run radio station Radio Kashmir Srinagar to All India Radio Srinagar. The radio started broadcasting even before India gained independence from British colonialists in 1947. Srinagar is the main city in Indian-controlled Kashmir.
The Hindu nationalist-led government of Prime Minister Modi sent thousands of additional troops and arrested anti-India as well as pro-India activists before imposing the changes in the Muslim-majority region. The most visible ones are the absence of Kashmir’s own flag and constitution, which were eliminated as part of the region’s new status.
But the most contentious change for many people is the threat of land grabs by Indians outside the region with the formal abrogation of a clause in the Indian Constitution that safeguarded Kashmiris’ exclusive right to land ownership.
“Everything changes on Thursday. From a state, we are reduced to a municipality,” said a retired Kashmiri judge, Hasnain Masoodi, a member of India’s Parliament. “The entire exercise is unconstitutional. The mode and methodology have been undemocratic. People were humiliated and never consulted.”
Masoodi represents the National Conference, a powerful pro-India Kashmiri political group whose leaders have been detained.