A picture showing a three-year-old child sitting on his grandfather’s dead body in Sopore town of Indian-administered Kashmir has stirred anger in the Muslim-majority region, with the family of the deceased accusing the security forces of killing the 65-year-old civilian during a gunfight.
“My brother was not a militant. He did not carry a gun. Why was he killed?” Nazir Ahmad, brother of the victim Bashir Ahmed Khan, asked.
“If you want, I can come with you to meet the top police officers to counter their claims,” he told Al Jazeera.
The police rejected the family’s allegations, saying the civilian vehicle had gotten caught in a gun battle between rebels and security forces.
Vijay Kumar, inspector general of police in Kashmir, told reporters that rebels opened fire at security forces from a mosque in the northern town of Sopore, setting off a gun battle on Wednesday. Kumar said one security official was killed and three were injured.
“The family is being pressurised by the militants to blame it on the security forces,” Kumar said.
But the victim’s family continued to contest the police claim. “We received a call that my father had met with an accident,” Khan’s son, Suhail Ahmad, told Al Jazeera.
“When we reached Sopore, we were told he was killed in a crossfire. If it was a crossfire, his body should’ve been inside the car, but it was found on the road.”
Aijaz Ahmad Qudsi, Khan’s nephew, told Anadolu news agency his deceased uncle’s car was unharmed, with not even a scratch. Qudsi claimed the 65-year-old was taken from his car and shot by the armed forces.
The family members also accused the security forces of putting the child on the deceased civilian’s body “for taking pictures”.
“They dragged the body out and put the child on top. The child’s clothes were drenched in his grandfather’s blood,” one of Khan’s relatives claimed.
The family said the man was a small-time employee who earned 6,000 rupees ($80) per month.
The photo of the toddler lying on the body of his dead grandfather was widely shared on social media.
A spokesman for India’s ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) faced criticism for mocking the picture of the dead civilian.
Sambit Patra tweeted the photo with the comment “Pulitzer Lovers??”
BJP leaders, including Patra, had criticised the awarding of the Pulitzer Prize to three Kashmir journalists in May, claiming the photos and commentary on them were “anti-India”.
Hundreds of people in Kashmir staged protests on Wednesday in the wake of the killing.
Later on Wednesday, hundreds assembled at the man’s funeral near Srinagar, shouting “We want freedom [from Indian rule]“.
UN chief on Kashmir violence
The spokesperson for Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has said that those responsible for the killing of the Kashmiri civilian and Indian soldier need to be brought to the account.
“We will look into it. But, obviously, people who are responsible need to be brought to account, but let me look further into the report,” Stephane Dujarric said on Wednesday.
Government forces have intensified operations against rebels since a coronavirus lockdown was imposed in March.
Since January, at least 229 people have been killed during more than 100 military operations across Kashmir, including 32 civilians, 54 government forces and 143 rebels, according to the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), a rights group.
For decades, rebel groups have fought for the region’s independence or its merger with Pakistan. Since 1989, the fighting has left tens of thousands dead, mostly civilians.
India has more than 500,000 troops stationed in Kashmir, a Himalayan territory also claimed by Pakistan.
India accuses Pakistan of arming and training rebels. Islamabad denies the allegations.
India and Pakistan have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir, a region both claim in entirety but rule parts of.