By Amin Masoodi
Authorities beefed up security in Indian Kashmir on Monday after 17 people were killed in gun battles and attacks over the weekend, including a university professor-turned suspected militant, and more than 100 were injured in protests.
But the situation remained tense as at least a dozen anti-India protesters were injured in fresh street clashes on Monday in south Kashmir’s Shopian district.
A day earlier, five civilians and five suspected militants, including the professor, Mohammad Rafi Bhat, and a top Hizbul Mujahideen separatist, Saddam Padder, were killed during a counter-insurgency operation, officials said. Local media described Padder as a top recruiter for the militant organization.
Meanwhile, clashes in the disputed Himalayan region left more than 100 anti-India protesters injured on Sunday, a day after three Lashkar-e-Toiba militants and a civilian were killed during a gunfight with security forces in Srinagar.
Also on Saturday suspected militants shot and killed three civilians in north Kashmir’s Bandipora and Sopore towns. The victims were suspected of working as informers for security forces, a police official told BenarNews on condition of anonymity.
Internet service remained suspended across the region for a second day on Monday, leading authorities to order schools closed and to postpone university examinations indefinitely even as police played down the protests.
“Barring a few minor incidents of stone throwing Monday morning, the situation is under control in south Kashmir,” Amit Kumar, deputy inspector general of police, told BenarNews.
“There will be further improvement in the situation in coming days. Security has been strengthened especially in sensitive areas of south Kashmir, including Shopian district, to maintain order. Police expect youths not to resort to violence and help maintain peace,” he added.
Separatists extended their shutdown call for Tuesday against what they described as extra-judicial killings at the hands of Indian security forces in the region, which has seen about 70,000 killed during an insurgency over the last three decades. Both India and arch rival Pakistan have contending territorial claims on Kashmir and have fought wars over it.
On Monday, Mehbooba Mufti, the chief minister of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, urged parents to protect their children.
“I am shocked by yesterday’s killings. I appeal to Kashmiri people and also to the rest of the country to save our children from losing their lives to violence,” Mufti told reporters in Srinagar.
“God brought us into this world to live a good life and not throw away our lives to violence. Unfortunately stones and guns are in the hands of poor children. I appeal government of India too to play its role in saving lives of Kashmiri youths,” she said.
Professor contacted family
Two days after he went missing from Kashmir University where he taught sociology for about 18 months, Bhat, 30, was declared dead along with four other suspected militants following a gunbattle in Shopian on Sunday.
Family members said they did not know the professor who completed his doctorate in November 2017 had joined militants, and were shocked to get a phone call on Sunday morning.
“I may have hurt you, please forgive me. I am sorry I cannot see you ever as I am fighting a gun-battle and may meet Almighty God soon,” Bhat’s brother, Imtiyaz Ahmad Bhat, quoted him as having said minutes before he died in the gun battle.
“He talked briefly to our father and to other family members including his wife by phone from the gun fight site seeking forgiveness before putting the phone down never to receive our calls again. Sometime later police asked us to go to the gunfight site to convince him to surrender but before we could have reached there, all five militants had attained martyrdom,” he told BenarNews.
On Friday, Bhat who was married three years ago, delivered what turned out to be his last lecture at the university.
“He was a great teacher and human being. He would give his best to the students and advise them to work hard and excel in studies,” Masood Ahmad, a student at department of sociology told BenarNews.
Police are trying to determine what led to Bhat’s radicalization.
“Our initial investigations suggest his two cousins were killed in the past and this may have motivated him to join the militants to avenge the killings,” S.P. Vaid, Indian Kashmir’s police chief, told BenarNews.