An informal but widespread boycott by students, shopkeepers, and public and private sector workers is in effect to protest India's lockdown after it scrapped the disputed region's limited autonomy angering locals and neighbouring Pakistan.

Indian paramilitary soldiers stand guard outside the main telephone exchange building in Srinagar, Indian-controlled Kashmir, Thursday, September 5, 2019.
Indian paramilitary soldiers stand guard outside the main telephone exchange building in Srinagar, Indian-controlled Kashmir, Thursday, September 5, 2019. (AP)

More than a month after India withdrew contested Kashmir's limited 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 region.

Despite the partial relaxation, an informal but widespread boycott by students, shopkeepers, and public and private sector workers is in effect 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 restart 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 Indian paramilitary forces and police with tear gas and pellet guns.

On August 5, Prime Minister Narendra Modi revoked autonomy of India-administered Kashmir, striking down long-standing constitutional provisions for the Himalayan region, which is also claimed by neighbouring Pakistan.

To dampen the possibility of widespread protests, India flooded Kashmir ⁠— already one of the world's most militarised zones ⁠— with additional 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. Checkpoints remain in place and communication restrictions make reporting from the region difficult.

Landlines restored 

Meanwhile, officials said on Thursday they have restored landline telephone service in the region.

Firdous Ahmad, a Srinagar resident, said the restoration of landline service "definitely brings a sigh of relief" from Kashmiris living under the lockdown.

He said he hoped cellphone and internet data services, which are more widely used, would also be restored soon.

People lined up at offices or homes that have landline telephones to try to contact family and friends after being unable to do so for a month.

But many were unable to get through after repeated attempts.

"Our landlines have been restored but we are still unable to talk to people. It is frustrating. I have been trying to call people since morning but I am not getting through," said Syed Musahid, a Srinagar resident.

Many Kashmiris living outside the valley also said they were having trouble getting in touch with their families back in Kashmir.

"I kept trying a hundred times to reach my family in Kashmir, and only then did my call go through," said Bint-e-Ali, a Kashmiri in the Indian city of Bengaluru.

She said she still hasn't been able to talk to her ailing grandmother in Srinagar.

"I hope I live to tell this horrendous tale to our next generation about how India didn't even let us talk to our family and friends," she said.

Self-imposed strike

In previous phases of protests in Kashmir, resistance groups would issue official calls for shutdowns and protests.

This time, however, pro-independence leaders ⁠— who either want independence for Kashmir, or support joining Pakistan ⁠— have been detained alongside pro-India politicians, including three former chief ministers and hundreds of other civil society leaders.

In posters across Srinagar, which began appearing in late August, shopkeepers have been asked to only open late in the evenings and early in the mornings to enable locals to buy essentials.

In the commercial areas of downtown Srinagar, the vast majority of shops remain shuttered.

Despite security forces asking owners to return to normal opening hours, many have refused.

"We were opening shops in the evenings for people," said Mohammad Ayub, a Srinagar shopkeeper. "[But] the troops tell us either to open the shops for the full day or don't open in the evenings."

Rohit Kansal, the official spokesman of the region's government, blamed "anti-national" forces for preventing shops from opening. "Security forces have taken note of it," he said.

Schools, government shutdown

Attendance in major government offices in Srinagar is around 50 percent and those in smaller, subordinate offices in the city is substantially lower, a state government official said, declining to be named as he was not authorised to speak to the media.

At an office of the state housing and urban development department in western Srinagar, only 30 out of around 300 staff are in attendance on most days, another official said.

"Only those who live nearby report to the office. The others come in once in a while," the official said.

Government workers employed to clean Srinagar's iconic Dal Lake have not turned up for work in several weeks, officials said, and the water's surface has become clogged with weeds.

Many schools remain empty.

"How can I send my children to school? There is a clampdown and we are concerned for the safety of our wards," said Javed Ahmad, a Srinagar parent.

Curbs remain

The shutdown and the restrictions still in place are having an impact across all areas of society.

With tourists avoiding the region, hotel owners say occupancy rates are close to zero.

Srinagar's historic Jamia Mosque has been closed for a month.

Kashmir's postal service is heavily disrupted, and online retailers, including Amazon, say their operations in the region remain suspended.

Pharmacists say there are shortages of drugs at some private pharmacies due to logistical issues, particularly thyroid, diabetes, anti-depressant and cancer drugs.

A Reuters reporter saw a chemist in the Jawahar Nagar area of Srinagar turn back half a dozen customers asking for common drugs on Wednesday, saying he didn't have any left.

Source: Reuters