Security forces in Indian Kashmir imposed curfews and barred people from attending Friday prayers in the Muslim-majority state to prevent protests during the death anniversary of a top militant, whose killing sparked a fresh cycle of violence.
Burhan Wani, 23, was a poster boy of Hizbul Mujahideen (HM), the oldest separatist faction in Kashmir, which has been demanding freedom from Indian rule or a merger with Pakistan since 1989. He was shot dead by Indian security forces on July 8, 2016.
Wani’s killing triggered widespread and sporadically violent anti-India protests in which more than 100 people were killed and almost 10,000 others were injured, according to official figures.
“Our forces are fully prepared to deal with any possible attempt to derail peace. This curfew would remain enforced in sensitive areas on Saturday, plus restrictions in other parts of the state, to maintain peace,” S.P. Vaid, Indian Kashmir’s police chief, told BenarNews.
A separatist insurgency in Kashmir, a region claimed in its entirety by India and Pakistan, has killed more than 70,000 people since the late 1980s. India and Pakistan have fought two full-blown wars over ownership of Kashmir since the partition of the sub-continent in 1947.
Separatist leaders who called for statewide protests to mark the first anniversary of Wani’s death were placed under house arrest on Thursday, police sources said.
But despite restrictions, clashes occurred in the volatile south Kashmir area, considered a hotbed of separatist militancy.
“At least 20 people were injured in a clash between the forces and protesters. These clashes occurred in a few areas,” the police source said.
Internet services were cut throughout the region on Thursday night to prevent people from spreading rumors, police said.
“Obviously, security is beefed up across Kashmir,” Vaid said, adding that his department was keeping a “strict vigil.”
In Wani’s home district of Pulwama, policemen came in armored jeeps and announced the curfew on Friday morning.
“They [security forces] are not allowing movement of people. We are confined indoors,” Irfan Ahmad, a Pulwama resident, told BenarNews.
“The entire district is like a military garrison. The entry routes leading to the villages have been sealed with concertina wires,” he said.
Fearing a repeat of the months-long violence that followed Wani’s killing, the state government on Thursday shut down schools for the next 10 days.
The government disallowed congregational prayers in Srinagar’s largest mosque, Jamia Masjid, for the third consecutive week, separatist leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq said in a Twitter post slamming the crackdown.
“Barring of Friday prayers yet again reflects [the] apathy and indifference of anti-Kashmiri state authorities toward the people,” Farooq said.
Police said that they were on alert for possible strikes during the weekend.
“We are on high alert for a possible militant attack as always. But on a day like this [Wani’s death anniversary] we are on double alert,” Inspector General of Police Muneer Khan told BenarNews, adding that more than 20,000 additional paramilitary personnel had been deployed across the state to safeguard the peace.