In Kashmir, shopkeepers refuse to open despite India easing some curbs

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A month after India withdrew contested Kashmir’s autonomy, locked it down with thousands of additional troops and made mass arrests, residents are resisting attempts by authorities to show some signs of normalcy returning in the Muslim-majority valley.

On August 5, Prime Minister Narendra Modi revoked special rights for Jammu and Kashmir state, striking down long-standing constitutional provisions for the Himalayan region, which is also claimed by neighboring Pakistan.

To dampen the possibility of widespread protests, India flooded Kashmir - already one of the world’s most militarized zones - with troops, imposed severe movement restrictions, and snapped all telephone, mobile phone and internet connections.

Thousands of people were arrested.

New Delhi has since eased some of the curbs although no one detained has been freed and mobile and internet connections remain suspended.

Officials in Jammu and Kashmir’s summer capital Srinagar say that 90 percent of the Kashmir valley is free of restrictions on daytime movement, some landline phone connections have been restored and thousands of schools have re-opened. However, checkpoints remain in place and communication restrictions make reporting from the region difficult.

Despite the partial relaxation, an informal but widespread boycott by students, shopkeepers and public and private sector workers is taking place across the valley, aimed at protesting against New Delhi, according to interviews with seven government officials and dozens of residents of the valley.

“For us, our identity at stake and its safeguarding is our priority,” said Shabir Ahmad, a shopkeeper from the old quarter, or downtown, Srinagar. “Let them restore it and we will re-start our businesses.”

The informal civil disobedience movement has sprung up alongside small but regular street protests by stone-throwing crowds that have been quickly quashed by security forces with tear gas and pellet guns.