Woman beheaded after being warned to wear the burqa

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Three young women have been killed – one beheaded – in Indian-controlled Kashmir, days after posters appeared in the state ordering Muslim women to wear burqas.

Three young women have been killed – one beheaded – in Indian-controlled Kashmir, days after posters appeared in the state ordering Muslim women to wear burqas.

The killings came during 24 hours of violence in the Himalayan region in which six people died, including a newly elected state legislator who was shot as he emerged from a mosque after Friday prayers.

Two of the women, both 21, were shot dead on Thursday night by militants in the south of the Muslim-majority state, while the third was dragged away and beheaded, reports in Delhi said yesterday, citing Indian officials.

The reports said the three women had been taken from their village houses in the Rajouri district, where the posters containing the dress diktat recently appeared. A police official was quoted as saying the deaths and the posters may have been linked.

Jammu and Kashmir has been on a knife-edge since Wednesday, when a court in Delhi sentenced three Kashmiri Muslims to death for helping organise an attack on the Indian parliament which killed nine people a year ago.

The condemned men and their supporters in Kashmir deny their guilt. Security forces have been on high alert in Kashmir since; shops and other businesses have been on protest strike.

Indian officials say that last year an obscure Islamic group, Lashkar Jabbar – whose name was on the recent posters – issued a dress code for Kashmiri women, threatening to shoot those who failed to cover themselves head-to-toe.

Reports in India also alleged that the same group carried out an acid attack last year on a woman in the Kashmiri city of Srinagar, for defying the dress code.

The legislator who was shot was Abdul Aziz Mir, 45. He was the first member of Kashmir's new legislature to be killed since elections in September and October. He was shot by a single gunman in an attack claimed by a group called the "Save Kashmir Movement".

Mr Mir was from the People's Democratic Party, part of a ruling coalition seen by the right-wingers in India's central government as taking a soft line, as it favours negotiations although not independence.

The coalition has been sharply criticised in Delhi for releasing political prisoners, a move intended to kick-start some form of peace initiative.

The coalition is headed by Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, a veteran who came into power vowing to heal the disputed region's wounds.

The Hindustan Times said this week that Mr Sayeed had been urging Kashmiris to reject the Islamic fundamentalist efforts to force women to wear head-to-toe clothing, and to stop girls from going to school.

The killings by Islamic militants – which have been a factor in bringing India and Pakistan close to war several times this year – have continued unabated.

In the 24 hours ending last night, the six civilians, including the three women and the lawmaker, who died, added to the 35,000 death toll of the 13-year conflict.

Also, the headless corpse of a civilian was found in a village and a man was shot dead in Srinagar.