Local officials and residents are reporting a growing anger in remote areas of Indian-controlled Kashmir following the deaths of three civilians while in army custody.
On Friday, the Indian army detained eight civilians for questioning, following an ambush by rebels fighting against Indian rule that resulted in the deaths of four soldiers and left three others injured in the southern Poonch district.
Allegations of torture have emerged from residents in the Poonch and Rajouri districts, which are located near the heavily militarized line dividing the disputed Himalayan region between India and Pakistan. These residents have accused army personnel of torturing the three detainees to death in a nearby military camp. The bodies, showing signs of severe torture, were later handed over to local police who then contacted the families. The remaining five detainees were reportedly taken to an army hospital after enduring severe torture.
In response to videos circulating online that allegedly show the torture of the detained civilians, authorities have cut off internet services on smart devices in Poonch and Rajouri on Saturday morning.
Protests have erupted in Srinagar, the main city in the region, with three pro-India Kashmiri political parties staging demonstrations against the killings. Mehbooba Mufti, the former top elected official in the region and one-time ally of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling party, has stated that the recent acquittal of an army officer in the killing of three civilians during a staged gun battle three years ago has “emboldened” the army. She believes that this has created a false precedent among the forces, allowing them to operate without restraint.
Lieutenant Colonel Suneel Bartwal, spokesperson for the Indian army, has confirmed that a search operation is currently underway to apprehend the militants responsible for the ambush. This operation has been ongoing since Thursday evening. However, Colonel Bartwal has stated that he does not possess any information regarding the circumstances surrounding the tragic deaths of the three civilians. In order to address the concerns of the villagers, senior police and civil officials have visited the affected village and supervised the burials. Local officials have also assured the community that a thorough investigation will be conducted by the police to bring about peace and justice.