SRINAGAR – Government forces sealed roads with barbed wire and steel barricades in Indian-controlled Kashmir on Friday to prevent a separatist protest march to a village where Indian troops killed four civilians and injured 15 others earlier this week.
Fearing anti-India protests after people in the mostly Muslim region attend afternoon prayers, tens of thousands of government forces patrolled the region. A strict curfew and a series of communication blackouts have failed to stop six weeks of protests, even as residents have struggled to cope with shortages of food, medicine and other necessities.
Shops, businesses and schools have remained closed because of a security lockdown and protest strikes since the killing of a popular rebel commander on July 8 that sparked some of Kashmir’s largest protests against Indian rule in recent years.
Local volunteers have engaged in a massive effort to get food and medicine to people in besieged neighborhoods, delivering items mostly at night and before dawn. The volunteers have also run free community kitchens at almost all major hospitals in Srinagar and other towns for the injured and their attendants.
At least 63 civilians have been killed and thousands injured, mostly by government forces firing of bullets and shotgun pellets on rock-throwing protesters. Two policemen have also been killed and hundreds of members of various government forces have been injured in the clashes.
Late Thursday, an ambulance driver was injured after a paramilitary soldier fired at him as he drove through Srinagar’s downtown with an emergency patient onboard, police said.
He managed to drive in injured condition to a hospital where he was admitted, police said.
More than 100 ambulances have been damaged during the last six weeks while ferrying injured people to various hospitals. Drivers and rights groups have blamed both government forces and protesters for attacking them.
Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan and claimed in entirety by both. Most Kashmiris and want an end to India rule and favor independence or a merger with Pakistan.
More than 68,000 people have been killed since rebel groups began fighting Indian forces in 1989 and in the subsequent Indian military crackdown.