Security forces in Kashmir have abducted hundreds of boys in midnight raids and molested women and girls amid the state's 11-day blackout, a group of Indian economists and activists said in a new report.
Regional police, army, and paramilitary forces have raided hundred of homes around the region and arbitrarily snatched "very young schoolboys and teenagers" from their beds from as early as August 5, the investigation — titled "Kashmir Caged" and published Wednesday— said.
Those officers also molested women and girls during these nighttime raids, the researchers said, without specifying exactly what their actions were.
The report doesn't explicitly say whether those officers were employed by the Kashmiri regional government or the Indian government. However, most police, paramilitary, and army officers in Jammu and Kashmir work under the Indian government.
Though the researchers spoke with hundreds of ordinary people — from students to shopkeepers to local journalists — around the state from August 9 and 13 for their report, nobody was willing to speak on camera for fear of persecution from the Indian government, the economists said.Also Read: Maharashtra Congress leaders meet Sonia Gandhi to discuss flood situation
Parents were afraid to tell them about their sons' abductions as they didn't want to arrested for disrupting state security. Some worried that their boys would be "disappeared" — killed in custody — because their family had spoken out, the report said.
There are no formal records of these arrests, one civilian said, so if someone was killed in custody the police could claim that they were never taken in the first place.
One 11-year-old boy in Pampore, a town in western Kashmir, told the researchers he was beaten up during his detention from August 5 to 11, and that there were boys even younger than him in custody.
The researchers also said that Kashmiri security forces have been indiscriminately firing pellet guns against civilians, leaving them hospitalized and bleeding internally.
The report comes as Kashmir remains under heavy lockdown and a communications blackout. Thursday marks the 11th day of phone and internet lines being cut.
Journalists in Kashmir have reported being prohibited from moving around the region, and local TV channels and news websites are unable to function.
Some local journalists have been able to continue file stories either with a satellite phone or giving USB sticks of their work to people flying out of the region, but they remain a minority.
People in the city of Srinagar have also been able to organize large-scale protests despite the communications ban.
The Indian government has imposed curfews around the region, and roads remain heavily blocked and guarded by the tens of thousands more troops sent into the region sent in last week.
The state-wide lockdown has prevented residents from going shopping for daily necessities, and ambulances from going to hospital as quickly as possible. Faulty phone lines have also prevented sick people from calling ambulances, reports say.Also Read: Chandrababu Naidu, 38 others told to move to safer places
The researchers behind the "Kashmir Caged" report added that between August 5 and 9, people lacked food, milk, and basic needs, though the Indian government said last weekend that it would send in more supplies in time for the Eid al-Adha religious festival.
The local Greater Kashmir newspaper dedicated its entire back page on one day to announcements of cancelled weddings or receptions due to the curfew and government crackdown, Wednesday's report said.
The crackdown came shortly before the Indian government cancelled two key articles in its 72-year-old constitution that guaranteed Jammu and Kashmir's autonomy on August 6.
Articles 35A and 370 allowed the majority-Muslim state to make its own laws, and prevented outsiders from buying property in the region or working for the local government.
Critics say India's move could allow Indian Hindus to alter the state's ethnic and religious makeup.
Many Kashmiris described the Indian government's latest decision with the Hindi words "zulm" (oppression), "zyadti" (excess/cruelty), and "dhokha" (betrayal), the researchers said.
Prior to the latest crackdown, Jammu and Kashmir had already been one of the most heavily-militarized regions in the world.
"Kashmir is like an open jail," said Vimal Bhai, one of the researchers, according to The Associated Press.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has repeatedly defended his administration's actions in Kashmir, saying in a Thursday speech marking India's 1947 independence from the British Empire that the "old arrangement" undermined the rights of women, children, and other marginalized communities.
"The old arrangement in Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh encouraged corruption, nepotism but there was injustice when it came to rights of women, children, Dalits, tribal communities," Modi said.
Pakistan — which also lays claim to Jammu and Kashmir, and has previously funded insurgencies in the region — flew its flag at half mast on Indian Independence Day to protest the Kashmir crisis.
Imran Khan, Pakistan's prime minister, said in a Wednesday speech that he doesn't want war but would resort to it if needed. He has also repeatedly likened the Modi administration's actions in Kashmir to those of the Nazis.
"I don't want war but it's clear now that they [India] don't want to talk," Khan said, according to CNN.
"We will fight to the end if it comes to that. To the very end. And at the end of that path, Kashmir will be independent."