Government forces on Saturday fired shotgun pellets and tear gas to disperse hundreds of Shia Muslims participating in a traditional religious procession in the Indian-controlled Kashmir, injuring scores, eyewitnesses said.
An officer at the police control room in the main city of Srinagar said the mourners on the outskirts of the city violated coronavirus prohibitory orders in place that restrict all religious processions and gatherings across the disputed region.
A duty officer said the police were confirming the number of injured.
Medics at one hospital said they treated at least 30 people, some of them with pellet and teargas injuries. Many injured were taken to another hospital.
Videos circulating on social media showed police in armed vehicles warning the mourners, who were beating their chests and reciting elegies to mourn the martyrs of Karbala as part of the Muharram ritual, to disperse before firing shotgun pellets and tear gas on them. Some mourners were also seen raising slogans seeking an end to the Indian rule in the disputed region.
``The procession was not just peaceful but was also following health protocols,'' said Sajjad Hussain, an eyewitness. ``They (government forces) unleashed such violence and did not spare even women mourners.''
Police broke up several such processions in the region this week.
Officials said at least 200 people were detained in Srinagar this week for participating in Muharram processions and at least seven people were arrested under an anti-terror law for raising pro-freedom slogans.
Some main Muharram processions have been banned in Indian-controlled Kashmir since an armed insurgency broke out in 1989 demanding the region's independence from India or its merger with neighboring Pakistan.
Such measures are particularly galling to Kashmiri Muslims. They have long complained that the government curbs their religious freedom on the pretext of law and order while promoting and patronizing an annual Hindu pilgrimage to the Himalayan Amarnath Shrine in Kashmir that draws hundreds of thousands of visitors.
Conditions have worsened in Kashmir since August last year, when New Delhi stripped the region of its statehood and semi-autonomy, setting off widespread anger and economic ruin under a harsh security clampdown.