Tensions are again simmering in the contested region of Kashmir after violence broke out on Sunday February 12 between militants and the Indian army, killing civilians as well.
Kashmir is a Himalayan territory claimed by India, Pakistan, and China. Separatists in the India-administered zone of Jammu and Kashmir have been agitating for self-determination since 1989. On Sunday, four pro-independence militants, two Indian army soldiers, and one civilian were killed in what the Indian army has termed a “shoot-out” in the district of Kulgam, starting a new chain of violent clashes between factions in the long-standing conflict.
Kashmiri and Pakistani militants had gathered for a meeting in a house in the town of Frisal when the area was cordoned off by the police after a tip-off. FRANCE 24 was not able to contact the Indian army for comment, but Lieutenant Colonel Rajesh Kalia told Reuters that militants opened fire on army forces from inside the building.
Videos posted online show locals gathering near the scene of the standoff, throwing stones at the soldiers.
Another video posted on Twitter shows locals running away from buildings. Tear gas canisters smoke on the ground, while the sound of shots firing punctuate the cries of “Allahu akbar” (“God is the greatest”).
Local media reported that at least twenty-five civilians were injured when police used tear gas and “non-lethal pellet guns” on the group of protesters, and one of the wounded later died from his injuries at hospital.
Two teenagers were reportedly shot in the eyes during the protests on Sunday. Indian soldiers in Kashmir regularly use shotguns that fire shells filled with small metal pellets. The pellets spray out, and if aimed below the waist, are meant to cause pain but no lasting injuries. But during a violent summer of protests in 2016 there were reports of hundreds of protesters being hit by pellets in the face in what has been termed the world’s “first mass blinding”.
The weekend’s clashes were well-documented on Facebook Live and on Twitter. The video below shows Kashmiris washing away puddles of blood on the ground. Someone explains that the blood comes from a civilian who was hit by a bullet. “We want to tell India about the kinds of atrocities we are being subjected to… Please share this video,” they urge.
The district of Kulgam was placed under curfew on Sunday after the day’s clashes, with local businesses and shops shut through Monday. Some protests erupted across the Kashmir region, but there were no deaths. However, violence resumed before dawn on Tuesday, February 14, with a deadly shootout in Hajin in the Bandipora region. Later the same day, students at Kashmir University gathered to protest the recent killings, and videos of the demonstration were widely shared on social media. In the video below, the crowd is shouting, “Referendum for Kashmir is the only solution”.
Three more militants were killed in another gunfight on Tuesday evening. This sudden flare up of fighting marks the first real period of violence since Kashmir’s bloody summer in 2016, when hundreds of citizens were blinded, 17,000 were arrested, and over 100 people were killed.