Thousands of Kashmiris in southern Pulwama district join funerals of four rebels, including two auxiliary police officers, who fled this week to join a decades-long armed revolt in India-administered Kashmir.

Kashmiri villagers carry a slain rebel fighter during a funeral procession at Panjran village in Pulwama, south of Srinagar in India-administered Kashmir, on June 7, 2019.
Kashmiri villagers carry a slain rebel fighter during a funeral procession at Panjran village in Pulwama, south of Srinagar in India-administered Kashmir, on June 7, 2019. (AFP)

Two low-ranking police deserters were among four rebels killed overnight in a gun battle with Indian troops in India-administered Kashmir, police and army said on Friday.

Soldiers laid siege to a residential area in southern Pulwama district, triggering an exchange of fire with armed rebels hiding in a house late Thursday evening.

"One militant was killed in the initial encounter that went on through the night. Three more were killed during early hours today," an Indian police officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP news agency on Friday.

"Two were local militants and the other two were identified as SPOs who had gone missing," the police officer said, referring to the two Special Police Officers.

Police defections

The officers had deserted, taking their automatic rifles, a day earlier to join the rebel ranks.

SPOs are the lowest-ranked officers in the state police.

Paid 6,000 rupees ($85) a month, they are mostly deployed for counterinsurgency duties and providing personal security for dignitaries.

Another police officer said the two killed former SPOs had gone for a day of leave to celebrate the Muslim festival of Eid al Fitr, but did not report back to duty on Thursday morning.

Many SPOs have deserted the police force in the past to join the rebels in the restive region, including three who were deployed to protect a minister in the local government.

Police seen as tools of New Delhi  

As the news of the counterinsurgency operations spread, protests and clashes broke out with hundreds of people trying to get closer to the site of the fighting and save the trapped rebels.

Indian police and troops fired shotguns and tear gas to stop the stone-throwing protesters. No one was immediately reported wounded in the clashes.

Rebels have been fighting Indian control in Kashmir since 1989.

Many residents of the region view the local police as tools of Indian government bent on suppressing widespread demands for the Muslim-majority region’s independence or merger with neighbouring Pakistan.

But still, the regional police force is one of the largest employers in Kashmir, a region with limited employment opportunities and an economy crippled by decades of conflict.

The discomfort Kashmiri police face in their work has existed to some extent since the late 1940s, when India and Pakistan won independence from the British empire and began fighting over rival claims to the Muslim-majority region.

Many of the police recruits in recent years have been the young men who have participated in civilian uprisings and have also fought pitched street battles with Indian forces, hurling stones and abuse, during anti-India protests. 

About a dozen policemen have fled with weapons to join rebels in the last two years.

When the armed insurgency erupted in 1989, police initially fought against it. 

Sympathy with rebel cause

Within a few years, as rebels began targeting their families, many abandoned the task and stayed at their posts and barracks. Some also began sympathising with and supporting the rebel demands as the campaign morphed into a full-fledged rebellion backed with public support. 

In the early years of the rebellion, dozens even joined the rebel ranks, rising to become rebel commanders.

However, toward the mid-1990s, India established a counterinsurgency force within the police ranks, loathed by many in the region for alleged human rights violations.

About 100,000 people have been killed in the uprising and the ensuing Indian crackdown.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies