Three teenagers were killed Tuesday in Indian-controlled Kashmir when security forces fired on thousands of protesters calling for independence, police said. The shootings were part of a pattern of violence over the last three weeks that has left 11 people dead and dozens injured.
Divided Kashmir, the cause of two wars between India and Pakistan since its bloody split in 1947, has long been the subject of anti-India protests.
Street protests have hit the Indian-held portion of Kashmir since June 11, when a 17-year-old student died after being hit by a tear gas shell fired by police during a pro-independence demonstration in Srinagar, the region’s main city.
That was compounded by a police investigation early this month that concluded that Indian soldiers had killed three civilians a few weeks earlier and that the troops had staged a firefight to claim the civilians were militants and justify the killings. After the findings were released, the army suspended two officers.
That wasn’t enough to mollify angry Kashmir residents, who have long bridled at the checkpoints, curfews and restrictions imposed by half a million Indian security personnel in their mountainous region.
As passions flared in recent weeks, protesters have attacked troops with rocks and sticks, yelling, “Blood for Blood!” and “Freedom for Kashmir!” even as security forces answered with tear gas, batons and live ammunition.
Civic groups said the core problem is a lack of trust between residents and security forces going back decades that can turn even a small incident into a spiral of violence.
“Recently, India has started to talk about how normalcy had returned to Kashmir, that there were more tourists, fewer attacks and fewer bomb blasts,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia representative at Human Rights Watch.
“There are a huge number of angry Kashmiris,” she said. “Let the situation also improve for them, with fewer uniforms, fewer boots on the ground. The state isn’t willing to do that.”
Security officials counter that they can’t reduce their presence until the situation calms down and incursions from Pakistan end.
On Monday, a gun battle near the India-Pakistan frontier erupted when suspected militants crossed into Indian territory in the Nowgam sector, said army spokesman Col. Vineet Sood, resulting in the death of five suspected insurgents and three Indian soldiers.
The three deaths Tuesday occurred in the town of Anantnag, 35 miles south of Srinagar, police said. The conflict was apparently sparked by a crowd that assembled at a bus stand in the morning to protest the earlier killing of five young men in the town of Sopore and the district of Baramulla, allegedly at the hands of paramilitary forces.
Police and paramilitary forces then reportedly asked them to disperse, which they refused to do, at which point the security forces fired tear gas and protesters threw rocks.
Also on Tuesday, cellphone service was suspended in north Kashmir, while text-messaging services were blocked throughout the Kashmir valley, reportedly to stop more residents from massing. This follows threats by opposition politicians and protest groups to mount a general strike and organize an extended march this weekend.
Many parts of the valley remain under tight restrictions. In Sopore, the town worst hit by violent protests, a curfew has been in place since Friday, and restrictions in Srinagar and Baramulla prohibit more than four people from assembling.
Decades of rebellion in Indian-controlled Kashmir, a majority Muslim region, have resulted in an estimated 47,000 deaths.
Anshul Rana in The Times’ New Delhi Bureau contributed to this report.