Two civilians were shot dead by Indian Army personnel in the restive region of Kashmir on Saturday, 27 January, triggering serious concerns in the valley. Like in previous tense situations, the issue of the controversial killings in the volatile border state looks set to snowball into a bigger crisis.
Boths youngsters who were killed – Javid Ahmad Bhat and Suhail Javid – were in their twenties, while several others were left injured when the Indian military, which has often faced stinging criticism over excessive use of force in the region, opened fire in Shopian district in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Security personnel said the shooting was an act of "self-defence" after the Indian Army's convoys came under attack.

It was an "unprovoked and intense stone pelting" by no less than 100-120 protesters, said the Indian defence ministry, adding that the stone-pelters increased in number very quickly.

"The crowd surrounded an isolated portion of the convoy consisting of four vehicles," said the ministry's spokesman Colonel Rajesh Kalia. "Considering the extreme gravity of the situation, the army was constrained to open fire in self-defence."

State police have registered a formal complaint against the army, which is controlled by the federal government, over the incident and ordered a probe. Jammu and Kashmir's Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti has contacted the centre's Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and sought a detailed investigative report.

Local reports allege that the incident is yet another example of Indian forces opening fire at the slightest provocation. One witness told the Greater Kashmir daily newspaper that the army's actions were "horrifying" and people fled the area screaming.

Separatist groups in Kashmir immediately called for protests across the state after the two civilians' deaths.

Tensions in Kashmir Valley – a heavily disputed territory between India and Pakistan and on which the two nuclear weapons-armed rivals have fought two major wars – have sharply escalated in recent years, primarily over protests against the presence and actions of Indian forces.

The southern part of Kashmir, particularly, has become a hotbed for militancy after the death of local militant commander Burhan Wani in July 2016. Wani was the poster boy of the Kashmir-based militant group Hizbul Mujahideen.

Incidents like these have precipitated the fragile atmosphere in Kashmir over several years.

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An Indian policeman pictured aiming his gun during a protest in Srinagar in Indian-administered Kashmir - File photo Danish Ismail/Reuters