Quick Action In Kashmir After Death Of Protester

Quick Action In Kashmir After Death Of Protester

3 January 2012
The New York Times
Hari Kumar

New Delhi: A day after security forces shot and killed a teenager during protests over electricity shortages in Indian-administered Kashmir, regional authorities moved swiftly on Tuesday to keep the killing from setting off new rounds of demonstrations during what has been an unusually peaceful period in the region. The chief minister of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, Omar Abdullah, visited the family of Altaf Ahmad Sood, 18, on Tuesday and then denounced his killing on Twitter, calling the circumstances “tragic, shocking and inexcusable.” Five security officers - an inspector and four constables - were arrested Monday in connection with the shooting of Mr. Sood. The state of Jammu and Kashmir had enjoyed a period of calm after three rage-filled summers that culminated with the 2010 deaths of more than 100 civilians in clashes between stone-throwing protesters and heavily armed security forces. By contrast, the lush Kashmir Valley was so peaceful last summer that tourists from across India visited the state in big numbers. India has a notoriously inefficient electricity system, which often provides free or low-cost energy but just for a few hours a day, especially in rural areas. Protests about the poor state of the grid are common across the country, though they rarely lead to shootings or deaths. Mr. Sood was shot twice in the chest after a central government paramilitary unit fired on a large group that was protesting electricity shortages outside the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation in the border town of Boniyar, Kashmir, Mr. Abdullah said. It was not clear whether Mr. Sood was part of the group of protesters or whether he was simply near the protests when the shooting began. Mr. Abdullah’s quick and public response appeared to be part of an attempt by the authorities to prevent the killing from prompting more protests and a return to the violent summer of 2010. The government handled “much tougher situations last summer without a single casualty,” Mr. Abdullah told NDTV, an independent news channel. Monday’s deadly confrontation immediately provoked sharp reactions from local politicians, who assailed the shooting as an attack on the rights of citizens to protest peacefully. “People were demanding basic amenities of life, like power,” said Mahbooba Mufti, the main opposition leader, “and you give them bullets.”