SRINAGAR, July 18: Indian paramilitary forces on Thursday shot dead six people protesting at a raid by the troops on a seminary in India-held Kashmir, police and witnesses said.
Border Security Force (BSF) troops fired on demonstrators who had gathered outside their headquarters in the district of Gool, two police officers said on condition of anonymity.
“It is mayhem. Six are dead and dozens injured. The death toll could rise further,” said one officer.
According to another report, Indian forces killed four people and wounded 40 members of a crowd demonstrating against what they said was the desecration of the Holy Quran by Indian security personnel.
India’s Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde ordered an investigation into the shooting and appealed for calm in the tense Himalayan region.
“I have ordered an inquiry to be conducted without any loss of time to ascertain the circumstances leading to the firing,” Mr Shinde said in a statement.
“I assure that any use of excessive force or irresponsible action shall be dealt with strictly,” he said.
“The loss of life in this incident is particularly saddening,” the minister said.
Protesters clashed with troops after an incident on Wednesday evening at the madressah attached to a mosque in Gool, witnesses said.
The head of the madressah, Qari Shabir, said four BSF troopers came in looking for militants, at the same time that a caretaker was alone there reciting prayers.
“They beat him up...that is when Abdul Lateef (the caretaker) raised an alarm and people started to assemble and the word spread,” Qari Shabir told AFP by telephone from Gool, 230km south of Srinagar.
Qari Shabir said he later went to the madressah and saw copies of the Holy Quran strewn on the floor before security authorities sealed the premises.
Other local residents said the troops had entered the mosque to complain about the loud recitation of prayers by worshippers during Ramadan.
The angry protesters gathered outside the BSF base on Thursday and clashed with troops who started firing, witnesses said.
“The BSF soldiers fired indiscriminately, downing protesters left, right and centre,” one witness who declined to be identified said.
A top BSF officer said troops only opened fire when a “mob attacked” the base where arms and ammunition were stored, adding that one soldier was injured.
“We are a professional force. We respect all the tenets of all religions,” Rajeev Krishan, inspector general of the BSF, told reporters in Jammu.
Kashmir chief minister Omar Abullah warned that the “ghastly incident” risked igniting wider unrest.
“It is highly unacceptable to shoot at unarmed protesters just because they were reportedly protesting against manhandling of an imam [prayer leader] of their area,” Mr Abdullah said in a statement.
“This shocking act warrants and demands the severest of condemnation in the strongest possible terms.”
COPS Gunned down: In a separate incident on Thursday, suspected militants shot dead two policemen who were bodyguards of a top cardiologist, near the doctor’s home in the town of Pampore, 15km south of Srinagar.
“Three terrorists attacked and injured the doctor while he was walking towards a car along with his bodyguards who laid their lives on the spot,” Kashmir police chief Abdul Gani Mir said.
India has for decades faced opposition to its rule in the disputed region though violence by Kashmiri militants has fallen off significantly in recent years. —Agencies