Violence, protests halt normal life in India's Kashmir

Schools, offices and shops forced to close after more than 20 die in clashes between separatist militants and the army
Violence, protests halt normal life in India's Kashmir

Soldiers rush to the site of gunfire between security forces and militants in Jammu and Kashmir state's Shopian district on April 1. (Photo by IANS)

Normal life has been crippled in India's Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir state by clashes between civilians and government forces.

Educational institutions, offices and shops remained closed on April 11 in most parts of Kashmir Valley — 10 days after protests began following a fierce gun battle between militants and the army took place in Shopian in southern Kashmir on April 1. 

The violence has killed more than 20 people. At least 19 people — 15 militants and four civilians — were killed in the April 1 encounter. Government forces said the civilians were killed as they were pelting stones at the army to help militants flee. 

Clashes broke our across the long-troubled region as news of the deaths spread. The state government imposed a curfew and suspended internet services.

Thousands of people took to the streets to protest the civilian deaths and an estimated 50 were injured, most of them during a funeral procession for those killed on April 1.

Many schools, colleges and businesses closed following a "shutdown" call by separatist leaders opposed to majority-Hindu Indian rule.

India accuses Pakistan of supporting militants who want Kashmir to join the overwhelmingly Muslim nation. Pakistan has consistently denied the charges.

State government attempts to reopen some educational institutions failed when students, including girls, began protesting.

The government itself in some particularly volatile areas shut schools and colleges in a bid to stem strife.

Authorities also suspended prayers at a mosque in the old city of Srinagar.

The unrest has adversely impacted on the livelihoods of more than two million people who depend on tourism, including taxi drivers and shopkeepers. 

Irshad Ahmad, a local travel guide, noted that last year's tourist season was also disrupted by violence.

"There were high chances of a revival this year, but the situation has again left us in the lurch," Ahmad said.

Aamir Aslam, a 12th grader in southern Kashmir, told that there would not be peace until India and Pakistan reached a mutual consensus on ending the conflict.

"Otherwise, this vicious cycle of violence will continue to consume precious lives and will make things worse," Aslam said. 

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The schism dates to 1947 when India and Pakistan become separate states after British rule ended.

Both countries claim all of the Kashmir region — part of which is ruled by each of them — and as well as three wars there have been countless skirmishes over it.

Calls for dialogue have come from a range of community groups, not least Christian churches.

However, pre-conditions set by both nations have stymied efforts to convene bilateral talks.

The Indian-administered part of Kashmir has experienced increased violence since 1989 when militants stepped up armed resistance.

Rights groups estimate that 100,000 people have since been killed, but Indian official records put the number at closer to 47,000.

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