Kashmir locked down amid strikes, protests over deadly shooting

Police have arrested separatist leaders and imposed curfews throughout the region following the deaths of four protesters Thursday.

Channi Anand/AP
A Muslim carries a placard protesting against the fatal shootings of four villagers by government troops on Thursday, in Jammu, India, Friday, July 19. Authorities have imposed a curfew in most parts of Indian-controlled Kashmir on Friday following a strike call and a protest rally by separatists to protest the killing of four villagers in the Himalayan region.

The streets of Srinagar, the largest city in Indian-controlled Kashmir, were mostly empty today and in towns across the region, businesses, and government buildings closed their doors. But the quiet belied tensions simmering across Jammu and Kashmir following the killing of four protesters by Kashmir’s paramilitary Border Security Forces (BSF) on Thursday.

Clashes between residents and police prompted authorities to issue curfews in several of the largest towns, while separatist leaders called for a three-day strike in response to the incident.

Separatist leader Syed Ali Geelani called for a regionwide shut down, while most other prominent separatists were arrested to stop them from leading rallies against the government, according to Agence France-Presse. 

In the town of Doda, in Chenab valley, demonstrations drew hundreds of people today before turning violent, reports The Hindu. The clashes with police left 20 people injured, including five police officers.

Elsewhere, security forces allegedly drove off protesters in several areas, including Nowhatta and Rajouri Kadal, according to The Hindustan Times. Meanwhile, cities and towns across the region have answered the call to strike. Even Kashmir University has postponed exams that were due to be held today, reports the Express Tribune.

In order to preempt further protests, a curfew has been imposed in all major towns across Kashmir. The decision to enact a curfew was made Thursday night in Srinagar by top security officials, and has also been put into effect in Shopian, Pulwama, and Kulgam, among other places. The Times of India has reported that restrictions on public assembly have been imposed in the rest of Kashmir valley.

In Srinagar, hundreds of paramilitary forces have been mobilized, and barricades and police checkpoints have been set up to prevent further unrest. Internet services, however, have been restored, according to The Hindustan Times.

The tensions followed the killing of four protesters in Ramban district on Thursday by paramilitary forces. Protests outside a BSF camp were sparked by rumors of the police desecrating a Quran and assaulting an elderly Mosque caretaker. BSF authorities, in an attempt to disperse the crowd, fired of shots, killing four and injuring dozens more.

The incident is one of many violent altercations to have broken out this year in Kashmir, a state whose sovereignty is contested by both India and Pakistan. After years of war between the two nuclear rivals, a stalemate was reached and the region was bifurcated by a “Line of Control” in 1972.

A Kashmir independence insurgency began in the 1990s and raged for more than a decade, traumatizing the region. Tensions between Kashmir Muslims, about 95 percent of the population, and Indian occupying forces, could be on the rise after a number of years of relative peace.

As the Christian Science Monitor reports:

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 BSF troops in Ramban where the shooting took place were removed before the funeral of the victims, reports The Hindu, and replaced by a police contingent. The funerals took place without any interruptions, and Ramban district has remained relatively calm in the wake of the incident.

Omar Abdullah, the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, has publicly condemned the shooting and has ordered an official inquiry into the matter, writes the Hindustan Times.

"It is unfortunate that in spite of costly lessons learnt in 2008 and 2010, some amongst us are determined to repeat past mistakes and use force against unarmed protesters. Such incidents risk throwing the entire peaceful atmosphere in jeopardy," he said.

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