Shops, businesses and government offices closed across Indian-administered Kashmir yesterday as separatists called a general strike to mark the anniversary of the day Indian troops took control of the region in 1947, celebrated by India as Infantry day.
Thousands of Indian soldiers in riot gear patrolled the streets of Srinagar, the main city, and prohibited any gathering of more than five people, said police officer B. Srinivas said.
The ban was aimed at blocking a plan by Kashmiri lawyers to form a human chain to protest the presence of Indian troops in the region.
“It’s an irony that even forming a human chain is a threat to the Indian state,” said Mirwaiz Omer Farooq, a key separatist leader.
“This was supposed to be a symbolic protest reminding the world that India has militarily occupied this place,” he said.
In recent months, Indian Kashmir has seen some of the largest protests against Indian rule in two decades.
At least 48 people have died, most of them killed when Indian soldiers opened fire on Muslim demonstrators.
India says it sent troops to the region in 1947 at the request of Kashmir’s Hindu king, who decided to join India when the subcontinent was partitioned by British colonialists into India and Pakistan.
However, separatists say the Hindu king decided to join India only after Indian troops had landed in the region.
Yesterday’s strike was called by the Jammu-Kashmir Coordination Committee, a coalition of Kashmir’s Muslim separatist leaders and representatives of businesses, lawyers and government employees.
The protesters demand that Muslim-majority Kashmir either gain independence from India or merge with Pakistan.
Anti-India sentiment runs deep in the territory, which remains divided between India and Pakistan.
The longtime rivals both claim the region and have fought two wars over it.
Meanwhile, Indian troops shot dead five Islamic militants during a gun battle in the forests of Kishtiwar district, south of Srinagar, a statement from the army said.
“The five were members of Hizbul Mujahidin,” it said, referring to the region’s most powerful group fighting for Indian Kashmir to join with Pakistan.