Thousands of Indian students, tourists leave Kashmir

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Observer Report

Srinagar

Thousands of tourists and students scrambled to get places on planes and buses leaving Indian Occupied Kashmir on Saturday after the Indian government warned of the threat of “terror” attacks but politicians raised fears of government scrapping the region’s special status.
The Jammu and Kashmir state government said late Friday that tourists should leave “immediately” because of new intelligence about “terror threats” to a major Hindu pilgrimage in the region.
The order came as the government called in thousands of military reinforcements to the Himalayan territory. The Indian government has admitted that 10,000 extra troops were sent to Occupied Kashmir a week ago, but media reports Friday said a further 25,000 had been ordered there. The government has declined to say how many are in the new reinforcements.
Anxious tourists, including some foreigners, flooded the airport at the main city, Srinagar, on Saturday, many without tickets for flights that day.
Visitor numbers have been boosted by the Amarnath Yatra pilgrimage, which draws hundreds of thousands of Hindus each year. The pilgrimage has been cancelled because of the scare. A huge security force had been guarding the route even before the alert. A second smaller pilgrimage, the Machail Mata Yatra, in Jammu region was also cancelled Saturday.
“Passengers who were scheduled to return in coming days have turned up in panic at the airport today,” said the manager of one airline operating the Delhi-Srinagar route.
“It’s chaotic and not many will manage seats unless there are additional flights.” Hundreds of Indian students from outside Kashmir were evacuated in buses. “All the non-local students have left the campus for their respective states,” an administrative official at the National Institute of Technology in Srinagar told news agency AFP.
Kashmiri residents formed long lines outside petrol stations, food stores and bank cash machines on Friday night after the alert was announced. The queues eased slightly on Saturday.
Kashmir politicians have raised fears that the additional troops are a sign that the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party government could carry out a threat to scrap Occupied Kashmir’s special status under the Indian constitution. Recent official orders, including the one on Friday, have triggered rumours that the BJP government is planning to remove Article 35A, which prevents people from outside buying property or claiming government jobs in Occupier Kashmir.
Political leaders in the territory have warned that cancelling constitutionally guaranteed rights could spark unrest. Former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti said India “has chosen territory over people”, and “seems to be preparing to rob them (Kashmiris) of whatever little is left to protect their unique identity”.