SRINAGAR: Government forces have arrested more than a thousand protesters in Indian-controlled Kashmir in an attempt to stem deadly anti-India demonstrations in the Himalayan region, a top policeman said Monday.
Inspector-General Syed Javaid Mujtaba Gillani said the arrests were made over the past two weeks in a bid to end a month of protests in which more than 55 civilians and two policemen have been killed and thousands injured.
Kashmir has been under a security lockdown and curfew since the killing of a popular rebel commander on July 8 sparked some of the largest protests against Indian rule in recent years.
Tens of thousands of people have defied the curfew and participated in street protests, often leading to clashes between rock-throwing residents and government forces firing live ammunition, shotgun pellets and tear gas.
On Monday, tens of thousands of troops patrolled streets ringed with barbed wire and enforced a curfew in most parts of Kashmir. Shops and schools were closed because of the security crackdown and a separatist-sponsored protest strike.
However, protests demanding the end of Indian rule over the region continued in several places, with reports of clashes between protesters and government forces in at least five locations. Seven civilians were reported injured.
Separatist politicians, who challenge India’s sovereignty over Kashmir, have called on residents to resist the crackdown and stage protests when troops raid neighborhoods to arrest young people.
Kashmir is divided between archrivals India and Pakistan, which have fought two wars over control of the region since British colonialists left the subcontinent in 1947.
India accuses Pakistan of arming and training Kashmiri rebels who have been fighting for independence or for a merger with Pakistan since 1989. Pakistan denies the charge, saying it only provides moral and political support to Kashmiris.
More than 68,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed since rebel groups began fighting Indian forces in 1989 and in a subsequent Indian military crackdown.
Meanwhile in New Delhi, opposition lawmakers on Monday questioned Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s silence over the situation in Kashmir and demanded that the government take political steps to defuse the crisis.
Lawmakers attacked the government over the firing of shotguns by soldiers at unarmed protesters. Ghulam Nabi Azad, the Congress party leader in the upper house of Parliament, urged Modi to hold a meeting in which leaders of all political parties could discuss and offer ways to reach out to the people of Kashmir.
Troops have continued firing shotguns to disperse angry crowds despite warnings from India’s home ministry to minimize their use, and requests for a ban from local and international rights groups. The pellets have killed at least two men and left hundreds of civilians with serious eye injuries. Dozens of people have lost their vision because of pellet injuries.
Sitaram Yechury of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) denounced the use of shotguns and said people want to know the prime minister’s views on the Kashmir crisis. “The prime minister’s silence is sending a message that this government does not care,” Yechury said.
Meanwhile, an Indian army spokesman said three border guards and a suspected rebel were killed Monday in a gunbattle near the highly militarized Line of Control dividing Kashmir between India and Pakistan.
Col. Nitin N. Joshi said it was not immediately clear if the suspected rebel had entered the Indian side of Kashmir from the Pakistani-controlled portion.