Strike called by pro-Independence groups and stringent curfew shut India-administered Kashmir, a day after deadly protests and fierce fighting killed at least 20 people and wounded over 100 others.

An Indian police officer stands guard as a girl peeps from the window of her house, after Kashmiri resistance groups called for a day-long strike against the recent killings in Kashmir, in downtown Srinagar April 2, 2018.
An Indian police officer stands guard as a girl peeps from the window of her house, after Kashmiri resistance groups called for a day-long strike against the recent killings in Kashmir, in downtown Srinagar April 2, 2018. (Reuters)

A security clampdown and a strike sponsored by pro-Independence groups shut down most of India-administered Kashmir on Monday, a day after deadly protests and fierce fighting killed 16 combatants and four civilians and wounded over 100 people.

Armed police and paramilitary soldiers in riot gear fanned out across the region and patrolled streets in anticipation of anti-India protests and clashes.

Authorities also imposed a curfew in some towns in southern Kashmir and in the old parts of the disputed region's main city of Srinagar, the urban center of protests and clashes against Indian rule.

Shops and businesses closed in other areas where no security restrictions were in place. 

Authorities shut schools and colleges and cancelled university exams in an attempt to stop protests by students.

TRT World spoke with Srinagar-based journalist Parvaiz Bukhari, who said the tension in Kashmir has been growing steadily since a well-known rebel commander was killed two years ago.

Train and internet services suspended

Despite the suspension of classes, anti-India protests erupted at the University of Kashmir, where many students gathered in the main campus in Srinagar and shouted slogans such as "Go India, go back" and demanded an end of Indian rule over the region.

Officials also halted train services and cut cellphone internet access in the most restive towns and reduced connection speeds in other parts of the Kashmir Valley, a common government practice aimed at calming tensions and preventing anti-India demonstrations from being organised.

"This [protest] is against the genocide of the Kashmiri Muslims. This is what happened yesterday in Shopain and other places. So the Government of India, their forces are killing the innocent Kashmiris," said Muhammad Yaseen Khan, who heads a local union of traders.

"We tell the world community, we say to Amnesty International, we say to United Nations, why you are silent on this issue?"

Rashid Ahmad, a Kashmiri lawmaker who supported Monday's strike said, "We want to give New Delhi the message that we will not succumb. The only way to bring back the peace to the valley, bring back peace to the sub-continent, is to resolve Jammu and Kashmir dispute through right to self-determination."

Indian army accused of using civilians as human shield

At least 13 rebels and three Indian army soldiers were killed in Sunday's fighting in three gun battles in southern Kashmir, where a new generation of rebels have revived militancy and challenged New Delhi's rule with guns and effective use of social media.

As the fighting raged, large anti-India protests erupted in several parts of Indian-controlled Kashmir and at least four civilians were killed and dozens injured.

Residents said government troops fired live ammunition and shotgun pellets into the crowds of mostly young protesters, causing injuries. 

They also said one of the civilians who died in southern Shopian near a gun battle on Sunday was being used as a human shield against rebels by the Indian army.

An army officer, who declined to be named in keeping with army regulations, rejected the accusation and said the civilian was killed in the crossfire with insurgents. 

In the past, such allegations have rarely been probed.

Medics trying to remove steel pellets from wounded eyes

Troops laid steel barricades and razor wire on roads and intersections to cut off neighbourhoods as authorities anticipated widespread protests.

According to hospital officials, many of the injured were hit by shotgun pellets in the eyes, causing widespread anger across Kashmir. 

In 2016, Srinagar's main hospital alone received hundreds of patients who had been injured in their eyes and blinded by shotgun pellets after some of the biggest protests against Indian rule in response to the killing of a charismatic young rebel leader, Burhan Wani.

On Sunday, doctors treated and operated on over 50 young men brought to the hospital, most of them hit in the eyes by pellets.

International rights groups have repeatedly condemned the Indian crackdown and called on it to stop using shotgun pellets against protesters armed only with stones. However, government troops have continued using the weapon.

On Monday, the Indian chapter of rights group Amnesty International tweeted that Indian "security forces must refrain from using excessive force against protesters in Kashmir. Internet shutdowns must not be blanket or indefinite."

The office of Prime Minister Narendra Modi applauded Indian troops after Sunday's clash.

"I think a message should go out that India has put relentless pressure for the past few months on terrorists as well as their supporters," said Jitendra Singh, a junior minister in Modi's office. 

Open support to anti-India rebels

In recent years, Kashmiris – mainly youths – have displayed open solidarity with anti-India rebels and sought to protect them by engaging troops in street clashes during military operations against the militants. 

The protests have persisted despite the Indian army chief warning that tough action would be taken against stone-throwers during counterinsurgency operations.

Nuclear-armed India and Pakistan each administer part of Kashmir, but both claim it in its entirety.

Anti-India sentiment runs deep in Kashmir, which in recent years has seen renewed rebel attacks and repeated public protests against Indian rule.

Rebels have been fighting Indian rule since 1989, demanding Kashmir be made part of Pakistan or become an independent country. India accuses Pakistan of arming and training the rebels, a charge Pakistan denies.

Most Kashmiris support the rebels' cause while also participating in civilian street protests against Indian control.

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

Source: TRTWorld and agencies