SRINAGAR: Aerial shots were fired by security forces to disperse agitated villagers in the restive Kulgam district of J&K who were protesting against the assault of women by the Army men in wee hours of Monday.

Witnesses said the Army launched a crackdown in Khudwani area of Kulgam at around 4 am on Monday, asking the male folk to come out of their homes. "The Army men accused us of shielding militants and said our houses will be searched," a resident of Redwani village told The Citizen, wishing anonymity.

During the search operation in Howur village, the Army personnel allegedly beat up the males when they were coming out of their homes, sparking protests by the womenfolk who too were beaten up. Residents said at least six persons suffered injuries in the Army action. One of the injured women, identified as Shakeela Bano, was referred to sub district hospital with head injuries. "She had a mild trauma in head.

She was kept under observation and later discharged," a doctor at the hospital told The Citizen.

The assault on women sparked violent clashes in the area with agitated youth pelting stones at the Army. Police was dispatched to the area following which teargas shells were exploded and aerial shots fired to disperse the protesting villagers.

The forces allegedly went on a rampage in the area, smashing windowpanes and doors of the houses before retreating. Residents said after the killing of two militants - Javed and Idrees, both locals - in a recent encounter in Redwani, there is resentment against the forces who have often harassed them under the pretext of carrying out search operations.

A resident of Redwani Balla said the resentment stems from "unnecessary" raids by the Army personnel who often camp outside the homes of the slain militants, evoking anger in their families. "How can a mother tolerate the presence of her son's killers near her home? Dozens of raids have been carried out in the area but not a single militant has been arrested. If there are militants hiding here, where do they disappear?" residents said.

The Army and J&K Police, however, denied the allegations. Officials said an Army convoy passing through the area was attacked with stones by agitated youths last week.

The area was tense throughout Monday and a complete shutdown was observed with moderate Hurriyat as well as Tehreek-e-Hurriyat condemning the forces' action. “Forces are very frustrated and that is the reason they are harassing and using excessive force against the common people of Kashmir. These cruelties have neither deterred us in the past and nor will it stop us to achieve our goal in the future also,” Tehreek-e-Hurriyat said in statement.

A wave of new insurgency has swept Khudwani, a Jama'at-i-Islami stronghold, with frequent protests erupting against the forces in different villages that fall in Kaimoh tehsil. 33 young boys have joined militants this year from south Kashmir alone, according to a police census.