NEW DELHI — The Indian army shot and killed dozens of demonstrators in the embattled Himalayan state of Jammu and Kashmir on Thursday after nearly 1 million protesters gathered in the state capital for the largest-ever rally for Kashmiri independence.
State-run television and radio announced from the strategic border state that at least 29 people were killed and scores injured after demonstrators stoned an army convoy, attacked buses and tried to grab weapons from the soldiers.
Partisan sources in Srinagar, the state capital, described the day's carnage as a "massacre." They said women and children were taken off buses and shot in the head by soldiers. They put the death toll at 70 and charged that none of the secessionist protesters were armed.
The Indian government expelled all foreign journalists from Srinagar last month after the Indian army was deployed to suppress a growing independence movement in the state, which borders Pakistan, India's traditional foe.
All requests by journalists to visit Kashmir have been denied in New Delhi, and the only news from the state has been from official government media or long-distance telephone conversations with Srinagar residents, most of whom appear to support the secessionist drive.
One such source said by telephone this morning that the army "massacred" 16 civilians, among them women and children, in a bus near the Srinagar airport and that an additional 48 demonstrators near the city's Zakura district were gunned down in cold blood.
Several other sources reported that the day's death toll exceeded 60, although official radio and television asserted that the army had killed the 29 and injured 45 others in firing aimed at thwarting "a well-knit plan" by Kashmir's underground secessionists.
Quoting from "intelligence sources," the state-run media said the pro-secessionist Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front was trying to kidnap schoolchildren from the buses when the army opened fire near the airport, killing eight.
The official account added that the army killed an additional 14 in Zakura after protesters stoned an Indian army convoy and "tried to snatch arms" from soldiers attempting to break up the demonstration.
The majority of Kashmiris are Muslim, and they have enjoyed considerable autonomy from Hindu-dominated India since deciding to join the Indian nation in 1947, when the subcontinent was divided along religious lines to create an independent India and the Islamic state of Pakistan.
India has accused Pakistan of supporting the Kashmiri secessionists, who have gained far-reaching support since New Delhi reacted to months of growing street demonstrations by sending in thousands of Indian soldiers and barring outside journalists.
Sources in Srinagar said that Thursday's huge demonstration included engineers, doctors, lawyers, educators and laborers, reflecting an expanding grass-roots support for the movement.
Indian authorities, though, have labeled all of the secessionists "terrorists."
Jammu and Kashmir, which has long ranked among India's most lucrative international tourist destinations, is also one of its most strategic states. Two of the three wars India has fought with neighboring Pakistan stemmed from their dispute over the region, and the third involved fighting there. The United Nations is still charged with policing the cease-fire line through it.