NEW DELHI — Hundreds of thousands of Kashmiri mourners beat their chests and shouted anti-Indian slogans Tuesday as they filled a three-mile funeral route with anger and tears, marching to a Himalayan "Martyrs Graveyard" where they buried the assassinated religious leader of the embattled Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir.
Dozens of other funerals also were scheduled throughout the state, as hospital and police sources in the Kashmiri capital of Srinagar confirmed that more than 50 others were killed Monday afternoon when Indian forces opened fire on mourners trying to reach the bullet-riddled body of Mirwaiz Maulvi Farooq, 45, the imam, or chief priest, of Kashmir's largest mosque.
A senior police official in Srinagar said at least 300 other people were being treated in hospitals for gunshot wounds and injuries caused by baton blows.
The government early Tuesday lifted a nightlong curfew to permit the funeral procession, and none of the thousands of Indian army and paramilitary forces who surrounded the city interfered, in an apparent effort to defuse the fury in the now deeply embittered state.
At the cemetery, according to the Associated Press, masked militants fired volleys from AK-47 assault rifles over the grave.
The crowd dispersed peacefully after the burial, AP said.
In New Delhi, officials said they still had no clues to the identity of the three gunmen who fired more than a dozen bullets into Farooq, a longtime moderate who, in recent months, had joined the state's armed secessionists in calling for an independent Kashmiri nation.
India's embattled Prime Minister Vishwanath Pratap Singh was forced to respond to a torrent of parliamentary protest from his growing list of political opponents.
Asserting that the Indian troops fired only after militants in the crowd opened fire on them, Singh fell back on the same strategy he has used for the past five months to deflect widespread charges of military brutality in India's crackdown in the Himalayan state.
"Let us not underestimate the very deep conspiracy across the border (in Pakistan)," Singh shouted to a raucous Parliament. He added that his government now has decided to seal the entire mountainous border between Indian- and Pakistani-controlled Kashmir to prevent what it charges is large-scale gunrunning to Kashmir's militant nationalists.
Singh's opponents, who have been using the Kashmir crisis to erode his government's shaky power base, shouted that the military crackdown in Kashmir has been counterproductive, alienating most of the Muslims in the state.
Chaturanan Mishra, a Communist Party lawmaker whose party has supported Singh's government in the past, asserted that the Indian forces are "acting like an occupation army in a foreign country."
Jammu and Kashmir is the only Muslim-majority state in Hindu-dominated India, and the overwhelming majority of Kashmiri Muslims now support secession from a nation where Hindu chauvinism is on the rise.
The Kashmiris contend that India has reneged on pledges of widespread autonomy for the state, which date back to the partition of the subcontinent in 1947, when Kashmir chose to join India rather than the newly created Islamic state of Pakistan.
Many Hindu intellectuals and human rights leaders in India have openly supported the Kashmiris' grievances.
But India's growing Hindu fundamentalist factions, exemplified by the Indian People's Party that is a cornerstone of Singh's coalition government, support the use of force in Kashmir. Members of those parties staunchly defended Singh in Parliament on Tuesday.