Clashes between protesters and police in Indian-administered Kashmir have left a teenage student dead, a day after a prominent Kashmiri separatist leader was arrested for spearheading a recent protest march against Indian rule.
Police Inspector-General SJM Gilani said the boy was killed after officers opened fire on a protest in the western village of Nabal on Saturday, as shops, businesses and public transportation shut down for a strike by separatists challenging India’s sovereignty in Kashmir.
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Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan since the two countries gained independence in 1947. Both claim the territory in its entirety.
Saturday was the second day in a row that Kashmir police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse hundreds of demonstrators who hurled rocks and chanted anti-Indian and pro-Pakistan slogans.
News of the death of Suhail Ahmad Sofi, 15, a Class 10 student, drew hundreds of more angry villagers to join the protests.
Witnesses alleged that Sofi was seized by local police officers during protests before “shooting him dead closely”.
“They fired on him in front of me. I saw two policemen dragging him for a distance and shooting him. One of the bullets tore through his heart and he died before we could hospitalise him,” Shakeel Ahmad Sofi, a cousin of Suhail Sofi, told Al Jazeera.
Security forces later lobbed tear-smoke shells as more villagers joined the protests, he said.
On Friday, clashes erupted in at least two areas in Srinagar, the region’s main city, and in the southern town of Tral shortly after prayers as people tried to march through the streets in protest at the killing of a separatist group commander’s brother, who relatives say was tortured to death on Monday by Indian authorities.
A Kashmir police statement regretted Saturday’s incident and promised immediate investigation into the killing.
“We regret the unfortunate incident and extend our sympathies to the bereaved family,” the official communique said.
Ashish Kumar, the paramilitary CRPF’s Kashmir spokesperson, sought to distance the force from the killing.
CRPF personnel are deployed at the request of local police “overseeing operations like this”, he said.
“We are always under the police’s command. Only an impartial investigation can reveal whether the bullets were fired by local policemen or our boys,” he told Al Jazeera.
Masarat Alam Bhat, a leading separatist activist, was detained in Srinagar before Friday’s clashes, a day after police registered a case against him for “anti-national activities” related to demonstrations he organised earlier in the week.
“He [Bhat] has been arrested after a case for unlawful activity was registered against him,” K Rajendra, the state’s director-general of police, said.
His arrest came about five weeks after he was released from prison following four years in detention.
Bhat rose to prominence in 2010 when he organised a series of mass protests before being detained without charge for four years under controversial public safety legislation.
Rajendra also said that police put two other separatist leaders, Syed Ali Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, under house arrest in an effort to prevent them from leading a planned march on Friday.