Srinagar, Indian-administered Kashmir – Two fighters and a 25-year-old woman were killed in a firefight with Indian soldiers in Indian-administered Kashmir, sparking protests and calls for a general strike.
Hundreds of residents marched towards the shoot-out that continued overnight on Tuesday in Batmuran village in southern Shopian district. Soldiers fired live ammunition and pellets at protesters to prevent them from reaching the scene, witnesses said.
“Two militants were killed in the gunfight, one of them belonged to Hizbul Mujahideen, and another belonged to Jaish-e-Mohammad,” police superintendent Shriram Ambarkar told Al Jazeera.
More than 20 people were wounded in clashes between stone-throwing youth and security forces, officials said.
Ambarkar said the woman, identified as Ruby Jan, was killed unintentionally. But residents said she was “deliberately” shot by soldiers.
“She was critically injured in the crossfire. We are investigating the circumstances under which she died. The situation is under control,” said Ambarkar.
|People use their mobile phones to take photographs of the body of Ruby Jan [Danish Ismail/Reuters]|
A senior doctor at District Hospital Pulwama, where most of the wounded were treated, said 20 people suffered gunshot and pellet wounds.
“Twelve people suffered pellet injuries in their eyes. Two people with bullet injuries have been referred to tertiary care hospitals,” the doctor told Al Jazeera on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorised to speak to the media.
The deceased woman was brought to the hospital after being shot in the stomach, he confirmed.
Police officials said two officers suffered bullet wounds and three others were hit by rocks thrown by demonstrators.
A local from Batmuran village told Al Jazeera that in trying to kill the gunmen, the army damaged seven residential homes.
“The militants were in one house, and the army damaged seven houses, leaving the families helpless. This happens after every gunfight; people lose their house, their belongings. Where will these people go in winter?” said the resident who asked to remain anonymous.
|People walk on the rubble of a house damaged in the gun battle [Danish Ismail/Reuters]|
The villages of Pulwama and Shopian have emerged as the stronghold of separatist fighters following the killing of rebel leader Burhan Wani last year. His death triggered a civilian uprising in which more than 100 people were killed and thousands blinded by pellets fired into protesting crowds by security forces.
The woman’s death was the third civilian fatality this month. Last week, a woman died during a firefight in Handwara district, and on Sunday, soldiers killed a civilian cab driver outside his home in Kupwara district.
In response to Tuesday’s killing, separatist leaders called for a general strike in the Kashmir valley on Wednesday. Authorities responded by ordering travel restrictions in volatile areas.
In recent years, civilians have rushed in large numbers to shield separatist fighters during armed confrontations.
Human rights activists in Kashmir say violence will continue as long as the army has the support of laws such as the Armed Forced Special Powers Act.
The controversial law gives India’s soldiers impunity in battling a rebellion in northeastern states and the disputed Kashmir region. India maintains about 500,000 soldiers in the Himalayan territory.
Parvez Imroz, a human rights lawyer in Kashmir, told Al Jazeera the army enjoys “moral impunity” in Kashmir because of the support of India’s media and its political leadership at the federal level.
“The army cannot be tried in civilian courts unless specifically permitted by the defence ministry and the Indian government, which never happens,” Imroz said.
Anti-India sentiment runs deep among Kashmir’s mostly Muslim population, and many support the separatists’ cause against Indian rule, despite a decades-long military crackdown.
Armed groups have fought since 1989 for the Indian-administered portion to become independent, or merge with Pakistan. Nearly 70,000 people have been killed.