SRINAGAR, India (AP) — Indian forces on Saturday fired shotgun pellets and tear gas to disperse hundreds of Shiite Muslims participating in a traditional religious procession in Indian-controlled Kashmir, injuring scores, witnesses said.
Police in the main city of Srinagar said the mourners on the outskirts of the city violated coronavirus prohibitions that restrict all religious processions and gatherings across the disputed region to stem the spread of the disease. Police said they were still confirming the number of injured.
Medics at one hospital said they treated at least 30 people, some of them with pellet and tear gas injuries. Many others were admitted to another hospital.
Videos circulating on social media showed police in armored vehicles warning the mourners to disperse before taking action. Some in the procession were seen raising slogans seeking an end to Indian rule in Kashmir, where an insurgency has claimed thousands of lives over the last three decades.
The procession during the Muslim month of Muharram included the faithful who were beating their chests and reciting elegies to mourn the death of the Prophet Muhammed's grandson in the seventh century battle at Karbala, in present-day Iraq.
“The procession was not just peaceful but was also following health protocols,” said witness Sajjad Hussain. “They (government forces) unleashed such violence and did not spare even women mourners.”
Officials said at least 200 people were detained in Srinagar this week for participating in Muharram processions, and at least seven were arrested under an anti-terror law for raising anti-India slogans.
Some main Muharram processions have been banned in Indian-controlled Kashmir since an armed insurgency broke out in 1989 demanding the region’s independence from India or its merger with neighboring Pakistan.
Such measures are particularly galling to Kashmiri Muslims. They have long complained that the government curbs their religious freedom on the pretext of law and order while promoting and patronizing an annual Hindu pilgrimage to the Himalayan Amarnath Shrine in Kashmir that draws hundreds of thousands of visitors.
Conditions have worsened in Kashmir since August last year, when New Delhi stripped the region of its statehood and semi-autonomy, setting off widespread anger and economic ruin under a harsh security clampdown.