Indian paramilitary forces opened fire on demonstrators today, killing at least four people and injuring dozens more, after protests erupted at a security base in Kashmir. The incident, which took place in Ramban district, marks yet another confrontation between Kashmiris and Indian occupying forces this year in the contested Himalayan region.
The protests started in response to an incident yesterday, when Indian Border Security Forces (BSF) allegedly entered a mosque looking for militants, according to The Associated Press. Protesters claim the BSF troops assaulted a caretaker and desecrated a Quran.
BSF Inspector General Rajive Krishan denied that the incident happened, saying protests began because of “antinational elements,” reports Reuters.
[Mr. Krishan] told a news conference the deaths occurred when his men and police fired to disperse a violent mob trying to get into a post where arms and ammunition were stored.
"Our men used the force for self defence," Krishan said.
After rumors of the allegations spread, protesters gathered in front of BSF headquarters when shots were fired into the crowd. Tensions have since been high in Ramban, where a group of angry demonstrators tried to set the district magistrate’s office on fire, writes the Times of India.
Local authorities have imposed a curfew in Ramban, reports NDTV. They have also shut down mobile Internet access.
Kashmir has a long and troubled history with curfews. In 2010, nonviolent demonstrations were violently put down by police forces and curfews were subsequently imposed, reports The Christian Science Monitor. In response, young men started pelting stones at authorities. Members of the community worried that the retaliatory cycle could renew violence in the war-torn northern region.
Kashmir, whose population is majority Muslim, has been the subject of numerous wars between India and Pakistan, which both claim sovereignty over the territory. Today, a de facto border called the “Line of Control” divides the areas of Indian and Pakistani authority.
In the 1990s, militants from Pakistan joined with Kashmiri separatists, and a bloody guerrilla war broke out that lasted more than a decade. In recent years the violence has petered out as Kashmiris turned to nonviolent tactics for gaining independence. But India still maintains an enormous counterinsurgency force in Kashmir, effectively creating a police state.
Now, people are worried that the violence of the ‘90s may be returning. In March, heavily armed rebel militants attacked police headquarters in Srinagar, resulting in seven deaths. And in June, rebels attacked a military convoy, killing eight soldiers and injuring 14 more.
The shooting in Ramban today has only aggravated tensions. Protests broke out as far away as Srinagar today, 110 miles' distance, reports Reuters. Other demonstrators blocked a main highway.
Meanwhile, the Indian government is appealing to people to maintain calm, according to the Hindustan Times.
In New Delhi, Union home minister Sushilkumar Shinde ordered an inquiry into the firing incident in Ramban district and said any excessive use of force will be dealt with strictly.
"I have ordered an inquiry to be conducted without any loss of time to ascertain the circumstances leading to the firing. I assure that any use of excessive force or irresponsible action shall be dealt with strictly," he said in a statement.