At least 13 protesters died today when Indian police clashed with tens of thousands of Kashmiris who took to the streets and torched a Christian missionary school in demonstrations fueled by reports of Quran burnings in the United States.
More than 70 people have died as unrest and protests have swept across Kashmir since June, in what appears to be the worst violence since a separatist insurgency began in 1989.
The demonstrations have been part of a popular uprising against Indian rule and heavy-handed police tactics in Kashmir, though today they morphed into anti-American protests “inflamed by reports on the Iranian state-run channel Press TV that the Quran was desecrated over the weekend in the United States,” reported the Associated Press. The AP put today’s death toll at 13.
Agence France-Presse reports that the protests began after a video of people in Washington tearing up a Quran was shown on Indian television. Nobody was inside the church-run school in Tangmarg village, 25 miles west of Srinagar, when it was torched, reports Agence France-Presse, but resultant clashes with security killed one officer and three protesters. Protesters chanted “Death to the US!” and “Death to Quran desecrators!”
Reuters quoted Kashmir Valley’s Inspector General of Police, S.M Sahia, as saying that “one person died in Humahama [in Budgam district] over Koran protests and in Tangmarg three people were killed after a huge Koran protest turned into an anti-government demonstration.”
Today was the third straight day of protests in Kashmir, with another man dying Sunday from a gunshot wound, reported CNN.
The Hindustan Times reports that curfews were extended today throughout Kashmir. Srinagar, the capital of the state formally called Jammu and Kashmir, is under a 24-hour curfew, along with other cities in the region. Paramilitary and police forces were sent throughout the region to enforce the strict curfew, which fell during the Eid celebration that marks the end of Ramadan.
Both India and Pakistan claim Muslim-majority Kashmir, and fighting over the territory has claimed more than 40,000 lives over the past two decades.
The Times of India reports that India’s prime minister said today that he was willing to talk with groups that renounce violence, and that the grievances of Kashmir residents need to be addressed. The remarks came before he was due to convene a security cabinet meeting to discuss lifting the Armed Forces Special Powers Act from parts of Kashmir.
Bloomberg reports that the law gives army and paramilitary police units the right to use firearms and detain suspects in areas of the country that the government deems “disturbed.”
Rolling back the Act “could be a good beginning to stem escalating violence,” said D. Suba Chandran, deputy director at the New Delhi-based Institute of Peace & Conflict Studies. Still, the Cabinet is “divided on what could be the starting point” for a sustained peace push, a process that would ultimately require giving Kashmiris greater autonomy, he said.
… Human Rights Watch in 2008 urged India to repeal the special laws, arguing they had violated fundamental freedoms for 50 years. “The Indian government’s responsibility to protect civilians from attacks by militants is no excuse for an abusive law,” Meenakshi Ganguly, its South Asia researcher, said in a report.
India’s main opposition party opposes repealing the act, but this is one of the measures moderate separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani has demanded before entering into dialogue with New Delhi, according to a Reuters Q&A on the conflict.
A senior separatist leader led thousands of people Saturday on a march demanding dialogue to resolve the Kashmir issue, reports CNN. The march ended in clashes and the government charged the leader, Mirwaiz Moulvi Umar Farooq, with inciting violence. The New York Times offers a video report on the violence.