Indian army accused of cold-blooded murders as the killings of two suspected rebels and four civilians spark pro-independence demonstrations across India-administered Kashmir.
Parts of India-administered Kashmir were under curfew and businesses and schools were shut on Monday to contain anti-India protests that spilled into the streets overnight after Indian soldiers killed six people.
The Indian army said rebels fired at a checkpoint in the southern Shopian area on Sunday night from a moving car, triggering a shootout with soldiers that resulted in the killings of a suspected rebel fighter and three of his associates, or Over Ground Workers (OGWs).
OGW is a term the Indian army and police uses for local rebel sympathisers who ferry weapons and transport rebels in the disputed region.
Police said the fourth civilian was found dead in a separate car at some distance, while the body of the another suspected rebel was found in the same area on Monday morning.
Locals, however, contest the Indian army’s version of events, saying that the four civilians were killed in cold blood.
The soldiers “shoot even at shadows, and they’re employing every tactic to suppress people,” said Bashir Ahmed, a Shopian resident.
On Monday, hundreds of people spilled into streets, shouting slogans against India’s army and demanding the end of New Delhi’s rule over Kashmir.
Clashes erupted in several places in the area dotted with apple orchards as police and paramilitary soldiers tried to stop the protesters.
Authorities blocked all major roads and internet connection in the region and detained activists of several pro-Independence groups, according to English-language newspaper Kashmir Life.
One of the region’s popular pro-independence leaders Mirwaiz Umar Farooq called the army’s version “propaganda and lies” and said the soldiers had “let loose mayhem” at Shopian.
Mohammed Yasin Malik, another popular pro-Independence leader said, “Yesterday’s incident is intended to instill fear among the Kashmiri People. This is murder of innocent people. The parties who contest elections (pro-India parties) are responsible for these killings.”
Police were cautious in describing the slain youths as rebel associates or OGWs and said they were investigating the incident.
“The car didn’t stop and instead fire came from the vehicle which soldiers retaliated,” the region’s senior police official SP Vaid said about the army’s report to the police.
The region’s pro-India parties National Conference and the ruling Peoples Democratic Party have called for a probe into the incident.
But rights groups say such probes in the past have yielded no results as Indian soldiers get impunity from prosecution by invoking a controversial emergency law, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA).
Under this law, Indian soldiers cannot be tried in the civilian courts for killings in Kashmir, except when New Delhi allows such prosecutions.
India has never sanctioned such prosecutions.
Last month, India’s Supreme Court invoked AFSPA to block prosecution of an army officer accused of killing three unarmed civilians in the same area during an anti-India demonstration.
“These killings should be understood in the context of impunity enjoyed by the army generally and the specific emboldening which this particular army unity received in the form of moral and juridical impunity,” Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society said in a statement.
“The repetition of these unabated human rights abuses is directly a consequence of legal, political and moral impunity enjoyed by the armed forces of India.”
Anti-India sentiments run deep in Kashmir which has been divided between Pakistan and India since 1947, with both nations claiming the region entirely.
Over two dozen rebel groups have been fighting against Indian rule since 1989, demanding the Himalayan region be united under Pakistani rule or as an independent country. Most people in the portion controlled by India support the rebels’ cause.
India, which has stationed over half a million troops in the region, accuses Pakistan of arming and training the rebels, which Pakistan denies.
Pakistan says it only gives moral, political and diplomatic support to the Kashmiris and that the dispute must be settled according to several UN resolutions on the dispute.
Nearly 100,000 people have been killed in the uprising and the ensuing Indian military crackdown.