Thousands of demonstrators staged a violent protest in Kashmir on Saturday, setting fire to a police office and other government buildings in the latest angry outburst after three months of almost daily Muslim protests against Indian rule in the Himalayan region.
Security forces reportedly fired into the air to dispel the crowds. There were no deaths, but three civilians and two police officers were injured, according to the authorities.
The demonstrations came after Muslims in Kashmir had finished their prayers for Id al-Fitr, the festival culminating the holy fasting month of Ramadan. Thousands of Muslims swept through the city of Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian-held Kashmir, with some protesters torching the office of a government power company and a police administrative office, which were closed for the holiday.
In Jammu and Kashmir, the police attributed Saturday’s violence to the leader of a moderate Muslim group, the Hurriyat Conference. Kuldip Khoda, the police director general, said that the authorities had granted permission to the group’s leader, Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, to lead a march on Id al-Fitr after receiving reassurances that it would be peaceful. Instead, Officer Khoda said protesters attacked the power company and began rampaging through Srinagar.
“Public property was set on flames on the day which is a day of peace,” Officer Khoda said in a statement.
He said officers had exercised restraint, despite attacks against police vehicles and officers. In recent months, the Indian authorities have been criticized for firing on stone-throwing protesters with live ammunition. At least 70 people have been killed during the bloody summer.
The violence is the latest setback to bringing peace and order after a bloody summer in Kashmir that began with the death of a teenager struck by a tear-gas canister. Since then, thousands of rock-throwing demonstrators have defied government curfews, demanding the removal of Indian troops from the region, which is claimed by both Pakistan and India.
In the 1990s, Indian paramilitary forces poured into the Kashmir Valley to fight an insurgency backed by Pakistan. Thousands of those officers have remained and their prolonged presence has become a central complaint of separatists. Officers enjoy special immunity from prosecution under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, and many Kashmiris say this immunity has led to human rights abuses.
On Saturday morning, before the protests, there were reports in the Indian news media that the government was considering a good-will gesture on the holiday, like the release of some political prisoners and the lifting of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act from some areas in the region.