Nearly 40 people were injured in Srinagar on Saturday as the police fired teargas shells and pellets to disperse people who had gathered for a Muharram procession, The Kashmir Walla reported. The police said that locals defied coronavirus protocols and took out the procession. Officials, however, have not confirmed the number of injuries yet, according to the Associated Press.

A witness told the online magazine that 500 people had been a part of the procession, which was taken out in Srinagar’s Khomeini Chowk area on the outskirts of the city. The witness added that the procession was peaceful and there was no stone-pelting.

Srinagar Senior Superintendent of Police Haseeb Mughal told the magazine that the procession and other religious gatherings had been banned in view of the coronavirus crisis. Mughal claimed that the police had used “minimum force” to keep the situation under control. “When there is an apprehension of law and order [situation], when they are pelting [stones] on the force, that [teargas shells and pellets fired] was done to restore the highway and to keep it through,” he said. “Why does the police use force? It is to keep law and order under control and we have used the minimum force.”

Kashmiri Shi’ite Muslims are detained by the police while trying to participate in a Muharram procession, in Srinagar, August 28, 2020. Danish Ismail/Reuters

A witness told AFP that security forces were present in huge numbers in Srinagar. “The forces fired pellets at the procession that was mainly peaceful and included women,” another witness said.

A 16-year-old-boy was among those injured in the firing, The Wire reported. A doctor treating the boy told the news website that four pellets had hit his right eye and damaged his optic nerve. Another pellet caused a hole in his right eye.

The injured people were first taken to the Imam Hussain Hospital, according to The Kashmir Walla. An unidentified hospital official told the magazine that 40 people had suffered pellet injuries. “They were referred to other hospitals including SMHS [Shri Maharaja Hari Singh] and Barzulla hospital,” the official said. “Two were very critical and needed immediate surgery. Their eyes were badly injured.”

Health workers at an unnamed hospital in the city told AFP that they had treated at least 30 people for pellet and teargas injuries.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court had refused permission for Muharram processions across the country, saying it would lead to chaos and targeting of a particular community amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Jammu and Kashmir has reported over 35,000 coronavirus cases and 685 deaths so far, according to data from the Union health ministry.