Indian security forces said they killed three fighters in an overnight gun battle in Kashmir’s main city, Srinagar, but the families of the dead men said they were innocent civilians.
“Parents might not be knowing activities of their wards,” Vijay Kumar, Kashmir Valley’s top police official, said about the men killed in the early hours of Wednesday morning, adding that they were supporters of armed groups and likely planning an attack.
The three were identified as 25-year-old Zubair Ahmad Lone from Shopian, and 22-year-old Aijaz Ganai and 16-year-old Ather Mushtaq Wani from Pulwama. The three had travelled from their towns to Srinagar on Tuesday to complete applications at Kashmir University.
India, which has been trying to quell resistance to its administration of part of the disputed Himalayan region for decades, has killed more than 200 people this year, according to official data.
It is rare for the families of these victims to contest official claims that their loved ones had belonged to armed groups, but the families staged a protest outside the Srinagar Police Control Room.
A spokesman for the Indian Army declined to comment, referring the matter to the police.
Kumar said one rifle and two pistols had been recovered from the site of the gun battle.
Bashir Ahmad Ganai, Aijaz Ganai’s grandfather, told reporters present at the families’ protest that his grandson was not a fighter.
“He was a student. Why did they kill him?” he said.
Kashmiri rebel groups have been fighting against Indian control since 1989, demanding independence or a merger of the territory with Pakistan.
The fighting has killed tens of thousands of people – mostly civilians.
Rights groups say cash rewards given to government forces for killing alleged fighters and emergency military laws help perpetuate rights violations. Authorities deny the claims.