India to probe Kashmir civilian killings, residents say ‘eyewash’

Region’s governor orders inquiry into Monday’s gun fight, a day after families of slain civilians are detained for demanding their bodies.

People hold placards during a protest demanding the return of dead bodies of civilians for proper burial, in Srinagar [Mukhtar Khan/AP]

Srinagar, Indian-administered Kashmir – Following widespread outrage over the killing of four people, including at least two civilians, in a gun battle in Indian-administered Kashmir, the disputed region’s New Delhi-backed administration has ordered an inquiry into the incident.

The move announced on Thursday came a day after the families of the two civilians and activists protested in the main city of Srinagar, demanding their bodies be returned to them for their burial according to Islamic traditions.

Police detained more than a dozen relatives of the two civilians – trader Altaf Ahmad Bhat, 48, and Mudasir Gul, a 40-year-old dental surgeon and real estate dealer – killed in the controversial gunfight. They were released late on Wednesday night.

People shout slogans during a protest demanding the return of dead bodies of civilians for proper burial, in Srinagar [Mukhtar Khan/AP]

Police officials alleged a third person killed in the incident, identified as 22-year-old Amir Magray, was an armed rebel, but his family said he was a labourer. The fourth slain man was identified by the police as a Pakistani national, but the authorities offered no evidence.

Police said Bhat and Gul died in the crossfire between the Indian forces and the suspected rebels at a shopping centre in Srinagar’s Hyderpora area on Monday evening.

However, their families dismissed the claim, saying the two men were used as human shields and killed in cold blood by the Indian forces during the standoff.

In a tweet, the region’s Governor Manoj Sinha said a magisterial inquiry will be conducted into the incident. “It will ensure there is no injustice,” he posted, without providing further details.

But the families of the civilians and Kashmiri activists have rejected the announcement, calling it a “mere eyewash” to calm the rising tempers in the region over the killings.

“We are not hopeful of any justice. Our only demand is getting the body of our family member,” one of Bhat’s relatives told Al Jazeera on condition of anonymity, adding that they have “little hope of justice”.

Human rights activist Parvez Imroz of the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCCS) said the inquiry was a “government ritual to divert attention from the civilian killings”.

“These inquiries have no credibility and are a mere eyewash,” Imroz told Al Jazeera. “They have been ordering these inquiries for the last 30 years with no outcome. The inquiry officers are government servants and not independent.”

The All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC), an umbrella group of the separatists in Indian-administered Kashmir which demands either the Himalayan region’s merger with Pakistan or the formation of an independent state, has called for a shutdown in the region on Friday.

The shutdown call by the group is their first in nearly two years.

“[…] the tragedy that has struck the families of innocent civilians killed in the Hyderpora staged encounter is so tormenting that its pain has stunned the people of Kashmir,” said a statement released by the APHC on Thursday.

Meanwhile, the families of the two civilians continue to demand the return of their bodies that have been buried by Indian officials in a graveyard 80km (50 miles) away from Srinagar.

As part of a policy that started in 2020, authorities in Indian-administered Kashmir have buried the bodies of hundreds of suspected rebels and their alleged associates, including civilians, in unmarked graves in remote areas, denying their families proper funerals.

On Wednesday night, dozens of Kashmiri residents, including the families of the two men, held a sit-in at Srinagar’s Lal Chowk area, braving the freezing night temperatures.

Soon, masked policemen carrying assault rifles descended on the protest site and dragged the protesters into police vehicles.

In one of the many videos of the detentions that went viral on social media, Bhat’s brother was seen grabbing the barrel of a rifle from the police, screaming: “Shoot me, you terrorist.”

At Magray’s home in Ramban district, 140km (86 miles) from Srinagar, his father Lateef Ahmad Magray told Al Jazeera the family is in shock over the young man’s killing.

“I last spoke to my son on Sunday evening… [Tuesday] morning at 8am (02:30 GMT), I got a call from the police that my son was a militant and has been killed. They had already buried him,” he said.

“He was a young boy who worked hard to support his poor family. We want justice. My wife is in trauma. One day our son is a normal man and another day he is declared a militant.

“I call myself an Indian. I have fought militants for this country, I have braved bullets of militants. Why was this done to my son?” he asked.

Policemen watch Kashmiris participate in a protest in Srinagar [Mukhtar Khan/AP]
Source: Al Jazeera

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