India’s Crackdown Hits Religious Freedom in Jammu and Kashmir

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Srinagar’s Jamia Masjid. — File photo

SRINAGAR (AP) — For years, Romi Jan’s mornings would begin with the plaintive call to prayer from the central mosque in Kashmir’s largest city. The voice soothed her soul and made her feel closer to God.

Not anymore. For nearly four months, the voice that called out five times a day from the minarets of the Jamia Masjid and echoed across Srinagar has been silent, a result of India’s ongoing security operations in this Muslim-majority region.

“The mosque closure is a relentless agony for me and my family,” Jan said. “I can’t tolerate it, but I am helpless.”

The India-administered Kashmir was already one of the most militarized places in the world before the government last summer began pouring in more troops. It imposed a security lockdown in which it shuttered important mosques, harshly curbed civil rights, arrested thousands of people, blocked internet and phone service.

The moves preceded the Hindu nationalist-led government’s August 5 decision to strip Kashmir of its semi-autonomous status and remove its statehood, moves it knew would be met with fury by Kashmiri Muslims. Most of them want independence or unification with Pakistan, which administers the other part of Kashmir though both claim it entirely. The government said the restrictions were needed to head off anti-India protests and violence.

While some of the conditions have been eased, some mosques and Muslim shrines either remain shuttered or have had their access limited. Muslims say this is undermining their constitutional right to religious freedom and only deepening anti-India sentiment.

The centuries-old Jamia Masjid, made of brick and wood, is one of the oldest in this city of 1.2 million, where 96% of people are Muslim. When it’s open, thousands of people congregate there for prayers.

Romi would take her two children there every day and sit inside the compound while they would play.

“I would forget all my miseries there,” she said.

Now, when her kids ask why they can’t go to the mosque, she draws a blank face.

“I open my window of the house which faces the mosque and show my kids the soldiers that are stationed outside it,” Romi said.

That it’s a target for authorities is neither surprising nor new. Friday sermons at the mosque mainly revolve around the Kashmir conflict, and its surrounding neighborhoods are often where stone-throwing protesters clash with government forces as part of an ongoing anti-India rebellion.

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