SRINAGAR: Indian security forces fired teargas and live rounds to quell mass protest in Indian-occupied Kashmir as hundreds of thousands rallied against New Delhi’s stripping of the region’s autonomy.
The protests erupted after Friday prayers with thousands of people marching towards the centre of Srinagar ignoring a curfew imposed as part of an unprecedented security lockdown in the disputed region.
Some demonstrators were carrying black flags and placards saying “We want freedom” and “Abrogation of Article 370 is not acceptable.”
India’s Hindu-nationalist government on Monday revoked Article 370 of India’s constitution, limiting the region’s decision-making powers and eliminating its right to its own constitution.
The government also downgraded Indian-administered Kashmir from statehood to two federally administered territories – Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh – ruled directly by New Delhi.
A police officer, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told Reuters news agency that 10,000 people attended the protest. The protesters gathered in Srinagar’s Soura area and were pushed back to the Aiwa bridge, the officer said.
A witness said some women and children jumped into the water while another said: “They [police] attacked us from both sides.”
India sent some 10,000 additional troops to the Muslim-majority region in the lead-up to its announcement on Monday, imposing a curfew on parts of the territory, shutting down telecommunications and arresting political leaders. Nearly 700,000 Indian soldiers are deployed in Indian-administered Kashmir, where civilian protesters and armed rebels either want independence or a merger with Pakistan.
Earlier on Friday, security forces eased restrictions to allow Muslim worshippers to attend noon prayers in their neighbourhood mosques. The main Jama mosque in Srinagar remained closed, however, and a police officer posted there told Reuters he faced regular attack from young people throwing stones.
In a narrow alley behind the mosque, 32-year-old Tariq Ahmed warned of a backlash against the Indian government once it relaxed the curbs on movement in the city.
“If they (authorities) have used force on unarmed Kashmiris, we will also react with force,” Ahmed, a university worker, said.
“We have no faith in the Indian government. They should let us protest. Otherwise, the only option is armed struggle.”