Anti-India protests and clashes have continued for a third day on Friday in Indian-administered Kashmir following the killing of a top rebel leader by government forces.
The Hizbul Mujahideen group’s commander Riyaz Naikoo and three other rebels were killed in a gunfight with Indian troops on Wednesday in southern Kashmir’s Pulwama district, leading to massive clashes in several places.
Naikoo, 35, was the chief of operations of Hizbul Mujahideen, the disputed region’s largest rebel group, which has spearheaded an armed rebellion against the Indian rule.
The clashes continued on Friday as anti-India protesters threw stones at the government forces, who fired shotgun pellets and tear gas to quell the spiralling protests.
At least one man has been killed and 50 others injured in the three days of clashes, residents and medics said. Most of the injured were treated locally.
Medic: People hit with pellets in eyes
However, at least a dozen people with bullet and pellet injuries were taken to a hospital in Srinagar, the region’s main city, for treatment, a doctor said on condition of anonymity because medics have been barred from briefing the news media.
She said most of the injured had been hit by pellet guns in one or both eyes.
Residents said government forces swooped into Naikoo’s native village on Thursday and accused them of vandalising a tent that villagers had set up for mourning his death, triggering large protests and clashes.
Authorities did not hand over the bodies of the slain rebels to their families under a new government policy designed to thwart large-scale funerals that have become a rallying point for anti-India protests.
Instead, police buried the bodies in a mountainous graveyard about 100km (62 miles) from the village.
Authorities have shut down mobile phone and internet services since Wednesday, a common Indian tactic in the region when such protests erupt.
They also imposed a near-total information blackout and refused to brief media about the situation.
Hindu-majority India imposed similar measures in 2019 when it revoked the predominantly Muslim region’s semi-autonomous status and statehood and imposed direct federal rule.
At that time, it launched a months-long total communication blackout and an unprecedented military crackdown in the strife-torn region.
Indian security officials and some members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party called Naikoo’s death a major victory against the rebels.
He was Hizbul Mujahideen’s top commander for almost eight years and shot into prominence during a 2016 public uprising following the killing of the group’s charismatic leader, Burhan Wani.
After Wani’s death, Naikoo helped give new life to the rebellion in Indian-administered Kashmir, with security officials saying he was the most wanted Kashmiri rebel.
India has stepped up its counterinsurgency operations across the region in recent months during the coronavirus lockdown.
The rebels have also continued their attacks on the government forces and alleged informants.
India and Pakistan each administer part of Kashmir, but both claim the region in its entirety.
Rebels have been fighting Indian control since 1989. About 70,000 people have been killed in the uprising and the ensuing Indian military crackdown.
Most Kashmiris deeply resent Indian rule and support the rebels’ call for the territory to be united, either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country.