SRINAGAR • Indian forces opened fire with shotgun pellets and tear gas on a procession by hundreds of Muslims in troubled Kashmir, injuring dozens of people who had ignored a ban on religious gatherings, witnesses said.
The Indian authorities had reimposed the ban last Thursday after clashes with Shi’ite Muslims wanting to stage traditional processions for the Muharram holy month.
Mr Jafar Ali, a witness, said that the procession on Saturday started in the Bemina area on the outskirts of the main city of Srinagar and that government forces were present in heavy numbers.
Mr Ali and other people who saw the clashes said security forces fired pellets and tear gas to break up the gathering.
“The forces fired pellets at the procession that was mainly peaceful and included women,” said another witness, Mr Iqbal Ahmad.
At least 40 people were injured, according to witnesses.
About 25 people were taken to a nearby clinic with pellet wounds, some with their faces and bodies covered in pellet marks, a doctor there said on condition of anonymity.
“We moved about a dozen people to other facilities for more advanced treatment,” the doctor said.
A police official confirmed the incident, saying: “Some people had gathered and were trying to start a procession; they were dispersed.”
He did not give details of casualties.
Muharram processions, to mourn Imam Hussain – a grandson of Prophet Muhammad, killed in a battle about 1,400 years ago – are held around the world but have been regularly banned in Indian Kashmir since an uprising erupted in 1989.
Muslims in the procession chanted pro-separatist and anti-Indian slogans, other witnesses said.
Several arrests have been made last week of people shouting against Indian rule when processions have been attempted, a police official said.
Some have been charged under anti-terrorism laws.
Dozens of Shi’ite Muslim mourners were detained in Srinagar on Friday after they tried to start Muharram processions.
The Muslim-majority Himalayan region is largely divided between India and Pakistan, which both claim it in its entirety and have fought two wars over it.
Last year, India took away the semi-autonomous status granted to its side of the territory.
Jammu and Kashmir state was demoted to a union territory governed directly from New Delhi, while the Ladakh region was carved out into a separate administrative area.
Tensions have risen since.