A young student has been killed by security forces in Indian administered Kashmir as he was participating in a demonstration against power cuts that have paralyzed the area during freezing winter weather.
The young man, Altaf Ahmad Sood, was killed when soldiers of an Indian paramilitary force opened fire at protesters on Monday. According to officials, nearly 500 people had gathered outside a power plant to demand regular electricity supply. Soldiers of the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) fired on the demonstrators as they marched towards the building, killing Sood and injuring two others.
The deputy inspector general of police in the area, Muneer Khan, told the PTI news agency that the five soldiers responsible for the firing had been arrested. Meanwhile, an official spokesperson for the government said, "The state government has taken up the matter with the Union Home Ministry and lodged a protest and demanded stern exemplary action against the delinquent officers." The spokesman also mentioned that the officials at the power plant should have called the local police rather than dealing with the protests on their own.
The Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Omar Abdullah, has also condemned Monday's shooting as "inexcusable." He said, "The circumstances will have to be treated as not an act of self-defense, but the case of excessive use of force." Speaking to an Indian television channel, Abdullah said that the location of the injuries and the number of rounds that the police fired, all point towards an "unwarranted" use of force.
Underlying political tension
On their part, the soldiers of the CISF maintain that they opened fire after protesters hurled stones at them and tried to storm into the offices of the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC). Protests over electricity shortage have erupted in Kashmir recently because of problems in power generation. Temperatures often go down to minus 14 degrees Celsius, causing lakes and rivers to freeze, thereby disrupting power production in an area which largely depends on water bodies for electricity generation.
The incident also reflects the underlying political tension in Kashmir, where Indian security forces are often accused of torturing and using force against local citizens. In 2010, more than 100 people were killed in anti-government protests at the state capital, Srinagar, as anti separatist demonstrations rocked Kashmir.
Author: Manasi Gopalakrishnan (PTI, AFP)
Editor: Sarah Berning