Shopian, Indian-administered Kashmir – Ganawpora is in mourning. The small village in the southern part of Kashmir‘s Shopian district has lost five young men, including a rebel, in less than a week.
One of them, 19-year-old Javaid Ahmad Bhat, was a big cricket fan. On the morning of January 27, he was playing cricket before returning home for lunch. He left his home in the afternoon for the market but never come back. Instead, the villagers carried his body back home.
Bhat and two other young students – Suhail Ahmad Lone and Rayees Ahmad Ganai – were killed when the army fired upon them at Ganawpora village.
India‘s army says they fired after they came under “intense” stone pelting but the villagers call the firing as “indiscriminate and targeted”. The state police have registered a case against the army for killing civilians.
Abdul Rashid Bhat, 65, trembles as he talks about his son. In his mud and brick home, he is surrounded by more than a dozen men. As his voice choked recalling his son, the men unsuccessfully tried to fight their tears.
“On January 27, he was playing cricket until noon. That was his routine,” said a wailing Waheeda, Javaid’s younger sister. “When he returned, he asked mother for lunch and left home to buy a gas cylinder. After an hour, we heard he has been killed”.
Though Waheeda could say a few words, her mother, Saja Begum, 55, has been silent for the five days now. She has not uttered a word since the news of her son’s death, the neighbours say.
Javaid was the only sibling who went for higher studies. The others – an older brother and three sisters dropped out of school – the family members told Al Jazeera.
“He was very bright and wanted to study. He always wanted to share the responsibilities of home. Little did I know this tragedy will fall on us,” Javaid’s father, a farmer, said.
“Javaid would crack jokes in the evening. I had my hopes pinned on him as he wanted to do something good in life to shift from farming.”
‘Killed in cold blood’
A kilometre away from Bhat’s house, men and women gathered in separate rooms to mourn the death of 16-year-old Suhail Ahmad Lone. It was outside Suhail’s home where the firing incident happened.
The residents said that on the morning of January 27, some young men had gathered at the village graveyard to pay respect to a rebel who was killed in a gun battle on January 24.
The boys had hung a black banner on the graveyard that had La Ila ha ilala (There is no God but Allah) written on it. The army came and they told the villagers to remove the banner. The villagers refused, leading to an argument, the villagers said. The army returned in the afternoon and allegedly opened indiscriminate fire on the youth.
They were killed for nothing. It happens in Kashmir only; they just kill our children and go.
Suhail’s father, Javed Ahmad Lone, recounted each of those moments before his son’s death.
“There was intense firing going outside. When there was a relative calm, Suhail went out,” Lone said, while feeling the bullet holes on the wall of his room that were fired by the army during the incident.
“I was behind him. The army was leaving (the village) and from a distance, they fired at him. I screamed for help. People came and took him to the hospital,” Lone said.
In total, five boys, including a local rebel, were killed in the village from January 24.
In the adjacent village, known as Narpora, dozens of people – men, women, and children of all age groups – walked towards the home of Rayees Ahmad Ganai, 23. Rayees was critically wounded in the firing and succumbed four days later.
“They were killed for nothing. It happens in Kashmir only; they just kill our children and go,” said Saeda Begum, 50, a villager, while wailing and shouting slogans.
The villagers say that the army firing was unprovoked. The army, however, says they came under “intense stone pelting” and the protesters tried to “lynch an army officer”. The villagers disagree.
“There were no warning shots from the army,” said Lone. “My son was targeted in his neck. The other boy was hit in the head. How can this be in self-defence? They could have fired on their legs.”
The police in the disputed region have registered a case against army personnel involved in the firing incident.
“The case has been registered under sections 302 (murder) and 307 (attempt to murder),” superintendent of police, Shriram Ambarkar Dinkar, told Al Jazeera.
“[The] army has also been made part of the investigation and we are recording statements from both the witnesses and the army,” the official said.
The families, however, said they don’t “trust any investigation carried out by the government”, citing past experiences.
“We don’t want to take part in any investigation; they are a farce,” said Javaid’s father.
Before completing the sentence, he points towards his brother, Muhammad Yousuf, sitting among the mourners.
“His 16-year-old son, Aqib Ahmad, who was supplying water to the army, was beaten to death by them in 2012. When they can’t spare those who serve them, what should I expect?” he asked.
“Everyone that time also said that the matter will be investigated and justice will be delivered but nothing happened,” he said.
Suhail’s family also has little expectations of justice.
“We ask the government not to harass us in the name of the probe,” said 45-year-old Lone.
“It is their court, their police and their administration that will carry the probe. We don’t want any compensation. We don’t want any job. We want them to leave us alone. If they can bring back my son back, then they should talk.”
Despite the registration of a case, the chances that the accused soldiers would be tried appear slim.
The Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), a controversial law, that is applicable in the region, gives protection to Indian soldiers against human rights violations and makes it mandatory for the state government to seek sanction for prosecution from Indian defence ministry.
The data by the Indian defence ministry shows none of the previous cases has ever proceeded to the stage of prosecution.
From 2001 to 2016, the ministry received 50 requests of sanction for prosecution from the region’s government.
The ministry denied sanction for prosecution in 47 cases while the fate three pending cases are yet to be decided.
Of the 50 cases, 17 pertained to the alleged killing of civilians, 16 to custodial deaths, 8 to alleged custodial disappearances and 4 to alleged rape and molestation.
Parvez Imroz, a senior human rights lawyer in the region, told Al Jazeera that in past too, there have been cases filed against the army but there has been no prosecution.
“These cases are a mere eyewash. There is AFSPA, which stops the prosecution of army men. No justice happens in these cases,” Imroz said.
International human rights organisations have accused the Indian army of human rights abuses in Kashmir and demanded the repeal of AFSPA.
Kashmir continues to be one of the longest unresolved conflicts between India and Pakistan as both states claim it in its entirety.
Anti-India sentiment runs deep among Kashmir’s mostly Muslim population, and most support the rebels’ cause against Indian rule, despite a decades-long military crackdown on dissent.