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India's Troops Keep Kashmir Cut Off From The Outside World


For almost two weeks, there's been a total communication blackout in Kashmir. The mountainous region is claimed by India and Pakistan. These are both nuclear-armed powers. Nearly 12 million Kashmiris are stuck in the middle. For more than a week, they have been living under a curfew enforced by 35,000 Indian troops who've been deployed to the area. The Indian government revoked Kashmir's special semi-autonomous status, barred international journalists from the state and arrested hundreds of local politicians.

We are joined now by reporter Saaliq Sheikh of the Associated Press. He is on Skype from New Delhi, India. But he recently returned from Kashmir because he's got family living there. Saaliq, thanks so much for being with us. Can you just describe what you saw? What's it like to be in Kashmir right now?

SAALIQ SHEIKH: Thank you, Rachel. I was in Kashmir for two days. I went back to meet my family. And this was the second time I was going to Kashmir. It has been - the situation back there is really grim. The - there is no traffic on the roads. People are forced indoors. There's blocking on the movement of the people. Internet lines don't work. There's no communication. The shops are shuttered. Very few health clinics are open. Schools and colleges are shut. And the people back there, they can't even talk to their family members who are living outside the region of Jammu and Kashmir. And this has been happening from last two weeks.

And there have been protests in some parts of Srinagar, the capital city of Kashmir. And there have been violent protests also in which Indian forces used tear gas shells and pellet guns, and there have been some people who have been injured also. I met a couple of them in one of the Srinagar hospitals when I was there. But currently the situation is really bad. There's a harsh curfew, and there are strong restrictions which don't allow people to usually come out from their houses.

MARTIN: So Saaliq, how are people getting - how are sick people getting medicine? How are families getting food for their kids if the shops are closed? I mean, how are people just surviving on a day-to-day basis?

SHEIKH: It's really tough. It's really tough. When I was there, I saw a lot of patients in a couple of hospitals. They said that they left very early in the morning with their patients. And then it took me hours - it took them hours and hours to reach to the hospital because there's hardly any private transport which is applying on the roads. People are actually running out of stock. There's hardly any baby food there. And it's very difficult times there. But the government is saying that everything is calm. Everything is fine. The traffic is on the roads. But what I and most of the journalists saw there, it's completely different from the government voice.

MARTIN: India has amassed all these troops in Kashmir. Do people there get the sense that this is going to escalate into a military conflict between Pakistan and India?

SHEIKH: Absolutely. A lot of people I talked to on the ground, they said this on quote, saying that they have never seen this unprecedented security lockdown ever in their lives. You go to any street, any road on - in Kashmir, you'll find hundreds and hundreds of armed forces. And they don't let you go from one neighborhood to the other neighborhood. And the biggest issue right now is that Kashmiris actually feel that this is going to escalate between the two countries, India and Pakistan.

MARTIN: AP reporter Saaliq Shaikh reporting for us on the situation in Kashmir. Thank you very much.

SHEIKH: Thank you. Thanks a lot. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.