Tens of thousands of angry protesters poured onto the streets throughout Indian-controlled Kashmir, hurling rocks and shouting anti-India slogans after soldiers killed four civilians and two suspected fighters.
Many protests on Monday centred around the town of Shopian, where the shooting occurred. There were no immediate reports of deaths or injuries during the demonstrations, which security forces responded to with volleys of tear gas.
The overnight shooting at a military checkpoint threatened to spark more unrest in a region that in recent years has seen renewed rebel attacks and repeated public protests against Indian rule.
Authorities put parts of the region under lockdown after the late Sunday night shooting, deploying soldiers and riot police, shutting schools and internet service, and ordering people off the streets in some areas in an attempt to derail protests.
But widespread anger, along with funerals for the six victims and separatist calls for a business shutdown, helped ignite angry demonstrations.
The trouble began late Sunday night, when officials say a car refused to stop at a checkpoint outside a Shopian military base and fighters inside fired at the soldiers.
Indian army spokesman Colonel Rajesh Kalia said a rebel and three civilians were killed when soldiers fired back. A fourth civilian’s body was recovered from a nearby car, officials said, and the body of another rebel was found a few kilometres away. Authorities said he was wounded in the shooting and died later.
Kalia called the slain civilians “over-ground workers” – a term that Indian security forces use for people who give support to Kashmiri rebels.
Police, though, were careful not to use that term, calling them simply “young men” and saying they were investigating the incident.
Kashmir’s top elected official, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, called them “civilians.” In a tweet, Mufti said she was “deeply distressed by more deaths of civilians caught in the crossfire in Shopian”.
‘Propaganda and lies’
But across the region, most people believed all 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.
Top separatist leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq called the army’s version “propaganda and lies” and said the soldiers had “let loose mayhem” on Shopian.
Authorities cut mobile phone internet service in the most restive towns, and reduced connection speeds in other parts of the Kashmir Valley, a common government practice to prevent anti-India demonstrations from being organised.
At one of the funerals, soldiers fired in the air to disperse thousands of mourners in a village in the Shopian area. No one was reported injured.
In January, anti-India protests erupted across Kashmir after soldiers killed three civilians during clashes in the same area.
Rights activists accuse Indian troops in Kashmir of routinely misusing their power, killing civilians in staged confrontations for promotions or rewards.
Kashmir is divided between Pakistan and India, with both nations claiming the entire region.
Rebels have been fighting Indian rule since 1989, demanding Kashmir be made part of Pakistan or become an independent country. India accuses Pakistan of arming and training the rebels, a charge Pakistan denies.
Nearly 70,000 people have been killed in the uprising and the ensuing Indian military crackdown.