Government forces have thrown tear gas and clashed with stone-throwing protesters in Indian-administered Kashmir, as the Himalayan region marked the anniversary of a hugely popular rebel leader’s death.
India imposed a widespread curfew, cut off both mobile and broadband internet services and deployed thousands of troops in Kashmir ahead of the anniversary on Saturday.
Residents said the restrictions on movement were some of the strictest they had seen, with some villagers told they would be shot if they left their homes.
The disputed region has seen an explosion of protests against Indian rule since government forces shot and killed Burhan Wani a year ago.
The death of the 23-year-old, who had built up a big following on social media, sparked an outpouring of grief and anger that spilled into the streets and led to months of clashes with security forces.
Nearly 100 people died in the months that followed and many more sustained serious eye injuries from the pellet guns used by government forces to quell the protests.
“Burhan made a place in our hearts as a hero,” Kashmiri student Umair Farooq told Al Jazeera ahead of the anniversary. “Many young Kashmiris joined the rebellion after his death. He is still alive in our hearts.”
‘Fighting for their future’
Separatist leaders, most of whom have been either confined to their homes or jailed, have called for a week of protests from Saturday to mark Wani’s death.
Muzaffar Wani, Burhan’s father, told Al Jazeera that the protest movement in the region cannot be suppressed by the authorities.
“The more they try to suppress us, the more we will rise up. Everyone here is fighting for their future,” he said.
“Given the kind of suppression we are facing, people think it is better to sacrifice themselves, rather than permitting humiliation of their mothers, brothers and sisters.”
All roads leading to Wani’s home town of Tral in south Kashmir were blocked ahead of the anniversary and authorities seized thousands of motorbikes to prevent people from travelling between villages in the area.
Witnesses and police told the AFP news agency that clashes broke out on Saturday when protesters tried to reach the family home and were blocked by government forces.
Sixty years of division
Kashmir, divided between India and Pakistan since 1947, has a long history of conflict and is one of the most heavily militarised places on earth..
The mountainous region is home to dozens of armed groups fighting for independence or a merger of the territory with Pakistan.
However, since Wani’s death, civilians have played an increasingly active role in the rebellion against Indian rule.
In parts of south Kashmir, the epicenter of protests, villagers began intervening in raids on suspects, throwing stones at government forces to create a distraction and give the rebels a chance to flee.
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies