Indian forces are carrying out their most severe crackdown in more than two decades against civilian protesters in Kashmir, arresting more than 8,000 this summer across the disputed Himalayan territory, police said Monday.
That includes 450 or so civilians being held, possibly for up to six months without trial, under a harsh security law that critics and activists say violates international human rights laws. India has said the separatists and civilians who help them are undermining the country's territorial integrity and forcing authorities to keep the India-controlled portion of Kashmir under tight control.
For weeks, Indian authorities have carried out a campaign of nighttime raids, rolling curfews and stopping travelers at roadblocks, but have failed to stop angry public rallies.
On Monday, government forces were battling a group of suspected rebels near a highway running by saffron-rich Pampore town, on the outskirts of the region's main city of Srinagar.
Gunshots and grenade blasts were heard from the site, where units of the army's Special Forces, paramilitary soldiers and counterinsurgency police had cordoned off and encircled one of the compound's buildings, according to an officer who spoke on condition of anonymity, in keeping with department policy. The officer said the two sides were exchanging intermittent gunfire. One soldier was reported injured.
Scores of people gathered on nearby streets to chant anti-India slogans in a show of solidarity with the rebels.
India has faced a separatist challenge in Kashmir since 1947, when India and neighboring Pakistan gained independence and launched the first of two wars they would fight over their rival claims to the Muslim-majority region.
India blames Pakistan for arming and training rebels to cross the heavily militarized border that divides the region between the two countries; Pakistan denies the allegation and says it offers the rebels only moral support.
Most people in the Indian-controlled portion of the divided territory favor independence or a merger with Pakistan. Rebel groups have been fighting in the region since 1989, and more than 68,000 people have been killed in the armed uprising and ensuing Indian military crackdown.
While anti-India protests are somewhat common during warmer summer months, this year's conflict have been especially fraught amid widespread anger over the killing of a popular rebel commander in a raid in July. India has responded with a clampdown that has nearly paralyzed daily life.
More than 80 civilians have been killed and thousands injured in clashes with police and paramilitary troops. Two policemen have also been killed and hundreds of government forces injured in the clashes.