SRINAGAR: New Delhi has banned a pro-independence group of India-held Kashmir as part of a crackdown on what it calls “separatist organisations”.

A statement issued in Delhi said the Indian government had declared the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) an “unlawful association” as it was trying to curb the activities of “secessionist organisations” posing a threat to the country’s unity and integrity.

The group’s leader, Yasin Malik, was arrested recently in a counteroffensive against dissent following a Feb 14 suicide attack that killed over 40 Indian soldiers in the disputed region. Over a thousand people have been arrested since then.

Many groups have been fighting for the Himalayan region’s independence from India or its merger with Pakistan since 1989.

Meanwhile, six people were killed on Friday in three gun battles between fighters and Indian security personnel in the region, police and army said. Among those killed was a 12-year-old boy.

Boy among six killed in gun battles between fighters and Indian troops

The boy was killed after the fighters were trapped in his home in the northern town of Hajin and engaged in a two-day gun battle ending on Friday, police said. His father managed to escape.

Police claimed the boy was “kept hostage” by the fighters.

In a statement, they alleged that the boy was killed by two fighters who were later killed in the gunfight.

Two more fighters were “eliminated” late on Thursday in the frontier district of Baramulla, army spokesman Col Rajesh Kalia said, while one soldier and two policemen were injured.

Another fighter died in a clash with soldiers in the south of the Kashmir valley, Col Kalia said.

At least a dozen villagers were wounded when Indian forces clashed with protesters near the site of the fighting, firing metal pellets and live bullets to push them back.

Three of the villagers were taken to hospital in Srinagar and were in a critical condition, a police officer and hospital sources said.

Entire neighbourhoods in occupied Kashmir often march toward sites of gun battles between fighters and Indian forces, attempting to rescue the former.

Scores of civilians have died during such clashes.

India has about 500,000 soldiers in the disputed region, where armed groups are fighting for independence or a merger with Pakistan. A 30-year insurgency in the region has left tens of thousands of people dead, mostly civilians.

The death in police custody on Tuesday of teacher Rizwan Asad Pandit — one of around 1,000 people detained in recent weeks — has further enraged locals.

Pandit’s family claimed the young man was tortured, saying his bones and even his spine were broken and that his body bore cuts and clear signs of torture.

An investigation is ongoing, but police have registered a case alleging he attempted to escape from custody, prompting angry demonstrations across occupied Kashmir in recent days.

Published in Dawn, March 23rd, 2019