Srinagar (India) (AFP) – Indian authorities Monday shut schools and blocked internet services in disputed Kashmir, after a weekend of protests and gunbattles left 20 dead and 200 injured — including many civilians with damaged eyesight.
Three soldiers, 13 suspected militants and four civilians died in a series of clashes south of the main city of Srinagar, in the single worst day of violence in Kashmir since 2016.
Thousands took to the streets over the weekend in support of the rebels, who have been fighting for decades for independence or for a merger with Pakistan.
Police opened fire with live rounds and pellet guns on mourners attending the funerals of slain militants and on crowds who threw stones and chanted slogans against Indian rule.
Doctors said Monday the extent of pellet gun injuries was the worst they had seen since hundreds were wounded in unrest that followed the shooting death of charismatic rebel commander Burhan Wani in July 2016.
“Most of them have pellets in their eyes,” said Dr Saleem Tak, medical superintendent at the Shri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital in Srinagar, of the 45 patients who arrived at the hospital after Sunday’s violence.
“This was the highest number of these injuries received in the hospital on a single day since 2016.”
The use of pellet guns is controversial in Kashmir. Amnesty International has called for the weapons to be banned, describing them as cruel and indiscriminate.
One man who declined to give his name for fear of reprisals told AFP his two teenage sons were struck by pellets while attending a militant’s funeral.
“The doctors are trying to save their eyes. We have to give these sacrifices for freedom,” he said.
Another woman tended to her son, who wore a bandage over a damaged eye.
“They say everything is fine in Kashmir, but look what happens here,” she said, also declining to give her name.
Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan since the end of British colonial rule in 1947, but both claim it in full.
Tens of thousands, mostly civilians, have been killed in separatist violence since the late 1980s.