Associated Press
Associated Press 7 Jan 2021

Bereaved father pleas for body of son to be returned


Bereaved father pleas for body of son to be returned

Distraught family of a teenager killed in a gun battle with government forces in Indian-controlled Kashmir denied that the boy was a militant.

Police said government forces fatally shot Mushtaq Ahmed's 16-year-old son, Athar Mushtaq, and two other young men when the men refused to surrender on the outskirts of Srinagar city on Dec. 30.

They described the men as "hardcore associates of terrorists" opposed to Indian rule.

Senior military official Major General HS Sahi told reporters that repeated appeals made to the suspected rebels for surrender but "were responded with firing and grenades thrown towards the security forces."

The men's families insist they were not militants and were killed in cold blood.

There was no way to independently confirm either claim.

"This is a fake encounter," said a grieving Ahmed.

Authorities buried them at a remote graveyard 115 kilometres (70 miles) from their ancestral villages.

Ahmed is demanding that the authorities return his son's body to the family for final rituals and a proper burial.

Under a policy started in 2020, Indian authorities have buried scores of Kashmiri rebels in unmarked graves, denying their families proper funerals.

Authorities say the policy is aimed at stopping the spread of the coronavirus, but rights activists and residents say it is an attempt by the government to avoid large funerals that fuel more resentment against India.

India has long relied on military force to retain control over the portion of Kashmir it administers.

It has fought two wars over the region with Pakistan, which also claims the mountainous territory.

An armed uprising since 1989 against Indian control and subsequent Indian crackdown have killed tens of thousands of civilians, rebels and government forces.

Kashmiris for years have accused Indian troops of targeting civilians and abuse of power, with sweeping impunity under controversial laws.

Human rights groups say such laws empower the security forces' vice-like grip on the population.

Athar's killing came months after a rare admission of wrongdoing by the Indian military, which conceded that soldiers exceeded their legal powers in the deaths of three local men it initially described as Pakistani terrorists.

Police concluded that an Indian army officer and two civilian "army sources" killed the three labourers "after stripping them of their identities and tagging them as hardcore terrorists."

The officer has been charged with murder.

Until last April, Indian forces had handed the bodies of rebels to their relatives for burial.

Since then, according to police, 158 militants have been buried at isolated locations.

Athar's body was the last one denied to relatives last year.

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