A photograph of nail-studded clubs purportedly used by Chinese forces in a brutal hand-to-hand skirmish that left 20 Indian soldiers dead in the Himalayas has caused outrage in India.
As the nation prepared to hold funerals on Thursday for some of those killed the first fatal clash on the two countries’ border since 1975, defence analyst Ajai Shukla tweeted the image of weapons he said had been captured by Indian soldiers at the scene of the conflict in the Galwan Valley. He wrote: “Such barbarism must be condemned. This is thuggery, not soldiering.”
Similar sentiments echoed across social media as the image proliferated, published by India Today and BBC News, the latter of which reported receiving the image from “a senior military official on the India-China border”.
However, Hindi news channel ABP’s defence and security editor Neeraj Rajput later tweeted that the army had since stated that the weapons pictured were only indicative of those used during the attack. No public statement has yet been made.
While Chinese and Indian officials are largely seeking to de-escalate tensions, India Today reports that troops stationed in Ladakh have been infuriated by the mutilated bodies of their comrades.
It is not yet known how many Chinese soldiers died in Monday’s fighting, in which hundreds of soldiers from the two nuclear powers fought a freezing battle on a narrow mountainous ridge at 14,000 feet using sticks and bats. Some reportedly fell to their deaths.
The editor-in-chief of China’s official Global Times outlet said Beijing was refusing to share the number of People’s Liberation Army losses as an act of “goodwill” to “avoid stoking public mood”.
Both sides have blamed each other for instigating the deadly clash. However, recent tensions first arose in April, when China sparked confrontations with Indian soldiers by sending thousands of troops, artillery and vehicles into disputed territory along the Line of Actual Control – a de facto boundary decided upon at the end of the 1962 Sino-Indian War.
India has said the Chinese claims on the Galwan Valley are “exaggerated and untenable”, after a discussion between the Indian foreign minister and top Chinese diplomat Wang Yi on Wednesday, in which both sides agreed not to take any steps to escalate matters and instead ensure peace and stability on the contested frontier.
However, as crowds lined the streets in Suryapet to watch the body of army colonel B Santosh Babu – who was killed in the clash – was brought home, prime minister Narendra Modi declared: “The sacrifice of our soldiers will not be allowed to go waste.”
He added: “No one should be in any doubt. India wants peace but when provoked, it is capable of giving a fitting reply, be it any situation.”
Hardline nationalist groups tied to Mr Modi’s Bharatiya Janata party have stepped up calls for a boycott of Chinese goods and cancellation of contracts with Chinese firms, while the prime minister has called an all-party meeting on Friday to discuss the tensions.
Additional reporting by Reuters