Nearly 3 months later, New Delhi has finally allowed nearly 30 Members of European Parliament (MEPs), drawn mainly from far-right parties to visit Kashmir. The move came amid mounting international pressure and tensions in Kashmir after New Delhi on August 5 announced abrogation of provisions of Article 370 and decided to bifurcate the state into Union territories - Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh - hours after Kashmir was placed under a total clampdown.
Ahead of their two-day stay in the Shikaras of the world famous Dal Lake, the MEPs met Prime Minister Narendra Modi who in a veiled attack on Pakistan told them that urgent action was needed against those supporting and sponsoring terrorism.
The visit is expected to take some heat off the government after US Congress members expressed concern over a lack of access for diplomats and foreign media. The lawmakers David N Cicilline, Dina Titus, Chrissy Houlahan, Andy Levin, James P McGovern and Susan Wild had said: True transparency can only be achieved when journalists and Members of Congress are allowed free access to the region. We encourage India to open Jammu and Kashmir to both domestic and foreign journalists, and other international visitors, in the interest of open media and increased communication.
Earlier this month, US Senator from the Democratic Party, Chris Van Hollen who wanted to visit Kashmir to see the situation ‘first-hand’ was denied permission by the authorities. "I wanted to visit Kashmir to see first-hand what was happening, but was not allowed by the Indian government. We had approached the government about a week ago, but were told it was not the right time to go there," The Indian Express had quoted Hollen as saying.
Even the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s main opposition party, Congress questioned the government for allowing European MPs to visit Kashmir but preventing Indian leaders from doing so, claiming it was an insult to India's democracy and "ultimate disrespect" to its sovereignty. A joint delegation of opposition MPs, including Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, undertaking a visit to Kashmir about two months ago, was not allowed to go beyond the Srinagar airport.
The delegation visit coincides with schools in Valley that are shut for nearly three months, opening for 65,000 students to appear in the Class X board exams today.
What is happening in Kashmir?
Kashmir is under lockdown since August 5 after Centre abrogated provisions of Article 370. Some shops open for a few hours early in the morning and late in the evening in certain areas, but the main markets are shut.
Internet, prepaid mobile services continue to remain barred. According to Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry Valley's economy as the business community has suffered losses amounting to over Rs 10,000 crore in three months. “In today's times, the basic need of any business is the internet which is missing on the ground. This will have huge consequences in the longer run,” the trade body had said.
Almost all political leaders have either been arrested or put under house arrest including three former chief ministers. Farooq Abdullah, senior-most Valley politician has been booked under Public Safety Act (PSA), a law that allows detention of a person without trial for up to two years.
Over 250 petitions have been filed against the preventive detention orders against prominent political leaders. Petitions have also been filed in the Supreme Court against the detentions.
At least 4,000 people, mostly young men, have been arrested since August 5, according to sources. Many of them have been sent outside the state. 83 of them alone are in the high security barracks of the Agra Central Jail.