Srinagar, Indian-administered Kashmir – At least a dozen homes have been reduced to rubble during a gun battle in Srinagar, the main city in Indian-administered Kashmir, residents have told Al Jazeera.
Some residents have accused Indian forces of setting civilian homes on fire and looting valuables, including cash and jewellery.
A top rebel commander and his associate were killed by Indian security forces on Tuesday, triggering anti-India protests and clashes in the disputed Muslim-majority region.
Afroza was inconsolable as she stood on the charred floor of her house in the Nawa Kadal neighbourhood, everything around her turned to ashes, even her children’s books.
You feel a particular despondency on seeing evidence of war crimes from your homeland. You begin to imagine what it must be like for the victims of those crimes. Then you realise you just cannot fathom it.
— Mirza Waheed (@MirzaWaheed) May 19, 2020
“From a distance, we saw our home in flames. It was a storm for us. Where would we go now? We had a roof over our head till yesterday that my husband had built with his lifetime hard work and today we have nothing,” she said adding that the “forces unleashed terror in the locality”.
Afroza said they are now left with only the clothes they were wearing. “When the forces came to our home, we were busy in the night-long prayers of Laylat al-Qadr. We were reciting the Quran and praying. We did not know everything will be snatched from us within minutes,” she told Al Jazeera.
“When they knocked at our door, we did not even get a chance to take our medicines along. They looted the money in our houses; they took away whatever they could. I had kept money and jewellery here they took it away,” said Baby Jan, who stood looking at her damaged house with her husband and three children.
Explosions and gunshots had echoed through the densely populated Nawa Kadal neighbourhood, the streets largely empty as a result of a coronavirus lockdown that has kept most residents to their homes.
Junaid Ahmed Sehrai, a commander of the largest Kashmiri armed group Hizbul Mujahideen and the son of a top separatist leader, was killed in the 12-hour gun battle, police said in a statement.
Locals poured onto the streets as news of the killings spread, hurling stones at Indian forces, who fired tear gas and shotgun pellets to disperse them.
The region’s police chief, Dilbagh Singh, said at a press conference that it “was a clean operation”, denying India forces were behind the fire.
“This was a clean operation, and we were careful that it is a congested area and fire might spread. So, we had kept arrangements like ambulance and other things were there,” Singh said.
“We spent four hours in evacuating residents first that’s how two cops were injured. When they were evacuating, the militants fired at them. There has not been much damage to the houses, the militants were throwing grenades which triggered a fire, but we controlled it.”
The deaths came two weeks after Hizbul Mujahideen chief Riyaz Naikoo and a close aide were killed by government forces in the southern Kashmir valley during a two-day gun battle.
Authorities said 73 rebels had been killed in Kashmir this year, many of them during the ongoing Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Rebel groups have fought for decades for the region’s independence or its merger with Pakistan and enjoy broad popular support. The fighting has left tens of thousands dead, mostly civilians, since 1989.
India has more than 500,000 troops stationed in Kashmir.