|News 20th June 2009
Thousands of troops patrolled the streets of Indian Kashmir as businesses, schools and government offices closed in protest Saturday as locals continued to accuse Indian soldiers of raping and killing two young women last month.
The protests, sometimes deadly, have continued since the bodies of the 17-year-old girl and her 22-year-old sister-in-law were found in a stream May 30. Police initially said they appeared to have drowned. A week later, amid the massive demonstrations across the disputed, mostly Muslim region, the police registered a case of rape and murder.
They have not named any suspects.
Human rights groups and separatist leaders have long accused the Indian military of using rape and sexual molestation to intimidate the local population.
The Indian military as well as paramilitary forces, who include both Hindus and Muslims as well as other religions, have not responded to the allegations.
The closure of almost all shops and businesses in the Muslim-majority area across Indian Kashmir Saturday was called for by the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, Kashmir’s main separatist conglomerate of nonviolent political groups, to protest the deaths.
Thousands of government forces in riot gear and armed with automatic weapons patrolled the deserted streets of Srinagar and erected steel barricades and strung razor wire across roads to prevent protests. Authorities have barred any gathering of more than five people.
Two people have been killed and more than 400 others injured in numerous angry protests and clashes between demonstrators and police, especially in Shopian, a town 35 miles (60 kilometers) south of Indian Kashmir’s main city Srinagar, where the women’s bodies were found.
The state government has ordered a judicial probe into the deaths, but rights groups say such probes rarely yield results and are often meant only to calm public anger.
Most in Kashmir favor independence from Hindu-majority India or a merger with predominantly Muslim Pakistan. The region is divided between the two nuclear-armed neighbors, and both claim the region in its entirety and have fought two wars over it.
Militant separatist groups have been fighting since 1989 to end Indian rule. More than 68,000 people, most of them civilians, have been killed in the uprising and subsequent Indian crackdown.