Kashmiri teenager dies of pellet, tear gas shell wounds

Asrar Khan, 16, succumbs to injuries suffered by pellet gun and tear gas shells after nearly a month in hospital.

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    The boy's family said Indian authorities did not allow the body to be buried in their traditional graveyard [Adnan Bhat/Al Jazeera]
    The boy's family said Indian authorities did not allow the body to be buried in their traditional graveyard [Adnan Bhat/Al Jazeera]

    Srinagar, Indian-administered Kashmir - When the body of 16-year-old Asrar Khan reached his home in Indian-administered Kashmir at about 2:30am on Wednesday (2100 GMT on Tuesday), wails of his grieving parents shattered the tense silence of the night.

    Khan, a student of Class 11, was injured in the head by a tear gas shell and pellets on August 6 outside his home in the main city of Srinagar's Ellahi Bagh area, according to his family and medical records.

    He was admitted to the Sher-i-Kashmir-Institute of Medical Science (SKIMS) in a critical condition.

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    For nearly a month and against all odds, Asrar battled for his life, supported by a ventilator machine.

    His family said he was declared dead by the doctors on Tuesday evening. But they could collect his body only in the early hours of Wednesday.

    After news of the teenager's death spread in the region, the Indian authorities tightened ongoing restrictions, fearing protests.

    Indian-administered Kashmir has been under an unprecedented security lockdown since August 4, when the government moved thousands of additional troops and detained political leaders.

    The lockdown came hours before India's Hindu nationalist government revoked Article 370 of its constitution, which granted the Jammu and Kashmir state a degree of autonomy, pushing the country's only Muslim-majority region into its worst political crisis in 70 years.

    The Indian authorities denied Asrar Khan died due to pellets or tear gas shell injuries, which are often fired by security forces to contain frequent protests in the disputed region.

    Speaking at a news conference in Srinagar on Wednesday, senior police official Munir Khan said the teenager was hit by a stone.

    "I am sure of it," he told the reporters. "Who told you that he was injured by the shelling? No shelling, no pellet injuries. He was hit by a stone."

    The police officer said there was stone-pelting on August 6 in Soura, Aanchar and other areas in Srinagar. "His condition had improved a bit, but somehow he succumbed [to his injuries]," Khan said.

    Medical records suggest cause

    However, medical records accessed by Al Jazeera refute the police officer's claim.

    Asrar Khan's admission card at the SKIMS said he had suffered multiple pellet injuries and was also hit by a tear gas shell.

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    The teenager's father, Firdous Ahmed Khan, told Al Jazeera that the officials were making false claims.

    "There are multiple witnesses to the incident. Even the doctors at the hospital told us he was injured by the pellets and tear gas shell. We have medical reports to prove it," he said.

    "He was first hit by a shell on the left side [of his body] and then he was hit by pellets. Where will you witness such brutality?" he asked.

    Asrar Khan's cousin, Shakeel, said he learned of the death on Wednesday because of the ongoing communications blackout.

    He said he walked nearly 13 kilometres from his house in Sonwar area to Asrar's house to see him one last time.

    "He was very good in studies. I would have never imagined he will go away from us like this," he said.

    Asrar's friends and neighbours said he was a passionate cricketer, who liked to bat for long hours.

    According to neighbours, he was playing cricket on the day he was wounded.

    "We used to call him Abe. He would have been a great cricketer if he had lived," said a neighbour, who used to play with Asrar. He did not reveal his name.

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    Hours after Asrar's family received his body, Indian paramilitary forces imposed a siege around the neighbourhood.

    According to the family, the police officials told them to maintain calm and bury him in the neighbourhood graveyard, and not in their ancestral graveyard in downtown Srinagar.

    "After killing our young boy, they didn't even let us mourn properly. What kind of democracy is this?" asked Irfan, Asrar Khan's cousin, who lives in the same house.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News