On 12 April, word spread in Kashmir that a soldier of the 21 Rashtriya Rifles battalion had molested a 16-year-old girl outside a public toilet in Handwara, a town in the north of the valley. The news sparked protests in the town, and the army fired at agitators, killing a middle-aged woman and two young men, one of whom was a promising cricketer.
Mehbooba Mufti, of the Peoples Democratic Party, or PDP, who had been sworn in as the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir around a week earlier, struggled to contain the crisis. She had faced turbulence as soon as she came to power, when Kashmiri and non-Kashmiri students at the National Institute of Technology in Srinagar clashed over questions of national loyalty. A local newspaper headline the day after the Handwara killings reflected Kashmiris’ grim resignation towards those who rule the state: “Army opens kill account for Mehbooba’s government.”
The government placed Handwara under curfew for a week after the killings, blocking internet services and barring journalists—except for a select few—from the town. But protests raged on. Demonstrators raised slogans against India, ripped an Indian flag off its pole, pelted police and paramilitary personnel with stones, and burnt down an army bunker. Soon after, Mufti, on her first visit to Delhi as chief minister, met the union defence minister, Manohar Parrikar. “He assured me that a probe will be initiated and the culprits will be punished,” she said. “At the same time the family”—of the protestors who were killed—“will be compensated. Such incidents should not happen in the future.” Another protestor was killed in firing that same day, and yet another two days later.