More than 300 people died in the Kashmir region claimed by India and Pakistan in the first half of the year, according to previously unreported data - one of the deadliest periods in the disputed territory’s recent history.
The impact of that surge on the Muslim-majority valley is clear, according to interviews with Indian officials, rights groups and the families of two victims of the conflict mentioned in a United Nations report this month: a school principal who died in police custody and a 12-year-old boy killed after being taken hostage by militants.
India launched 177 cordon and search operations in the first half of the year, according to the Jammu & Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCSS), the leading human rights group in the region, up from 116 in the same period last year.
An overlapping data set from JKCSS puts the death toll in the first half of 2019 at 271, on a par with last year, which it says was the deadliest in a decade.
One of those killed during the period was Rizwan Pandit, the school principal who died in police custody.
India is not alone in being accused of rights abuses in Kashmir. Militant groups, most of whom have their headquarters in Pakistan, have become increasingly willing to inflict collateral damage on civilians, according to the UN report.
Days after Pandit’s death in March, 12-year old Atif Mir was taken hostage by militants in Bandipora, in north Kashmir, along with six other relatives.
Mir was eventually killed in crossfire between the militants and troops, which also burnt the family’s home to the ground, witnesses said.
Indian security forces and armed groups resisting their rule are both showing increasing aggression, according to the report from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, as the battle over Kashmir enters its fourth decade.
New Delhi rejects the conclusion of the UN report accusing it of human rights abuses, calling it a “false and motivated narrative” on the state of the region.