SRINAGAR, India (AP) — Government forces fired on anti-India protesters Saturday and killed a teenage student on the second day of violent clashes in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir, police said. Relatives disputed the official account, saying the boy was killed in custody.
The protesters, hurling rocks and shouting slogans, had gathered Saturday morning in the western village of Narbal as shops, businesses and public transportation shut down for a strike called by separatists challenging India’s sovereignty in Kashmir, police said.
Troops fired on the demonstrators, killing the boy, police inspector general Syed Javaid Mujtaba Gillani said. Relatives and villagers contested the official story, however, saying the teen had been picked up by authorities before being shot.
“They detained him and held him on a roadside for a while. Later they shot him,” the boy’s uncle Tariq Ahmed Sofi told reporters.
In an unusual move for law enforcement in Kashmir, police quickly opened a case for murder and began investigating the boy’s death. In a statement, they called the incident “unfortunate” and said the preliminary inquiry indicated that Indian forces “acted in violation of the laid down SOP (standard operating procedure).”
“All this is matter of investigation,” police director-general K. Rajendra said. “We’ve registered a case, and the truth will come out.”
Locals and rights groups have long said, however, that such investigations rarely yield results and are aimed only at calming public anger.
The boy was identified as Suhail Ahmed Sofi. His exact age was not immediately clear, with reports ranging from 15 to 18 years old.
News of his death drew hundreds more angry villagers to join the protests in Narbal, and troops tried to disperse them with tear gas. At least six police officers and paramilitary soldiers and four protesters were injured. Some protesters torched a government-run cafeteria.
Later, thousands of people attended the boy’s funeral, chanting slogans including “We want freedom” and “Long live Pakistan.”
Protests and clashes also erupted in at least half a dozen other towns and villages across Kashmir. In total, at least 16 police officers and 12 protesters were injured in the clashes, including those in Narbal. Authorities put all separatist leaders under house arrest in an attempt to keep the demonstrations from spiraling out of control.
Separatist leader Syed Ali Geelani called for Saturday’s strike a day after Indian authorities arrested another separatist leader, Masarat Alam, for leading an anti-India march and raising pro-Pakistan slogans.
Alam’s arrest — just weeks after his release from five years in prison on the same charge — sparked violent clashes Friday between protesters and law enforcement officials that left 20 police personnel and five protesters injured.
Geelani also accused the Indian media of biased reporting on the conflict, and complained of earlier arrests and unlawful killings. On Monday, the Indian army said a gunbattle near the southern town of Tral had killed the brother of a rebel commander along with a local militant, while relatives and local residents alleged that the brother was tortured to death.
Kashmir is divided between neighboring India and Pakistan, and pro-Pakistan slogans are nothing new within the mostly Muslim region, where most people mistrust Indian rule. Since an insurgency erupted in 1989, several militant groups in Kashmir have been demanding the region be given full independence or merged with Pakistan.
An estimated 68,000 people have died in the fighting and ensuing crackdown by Indian forces. With the insurgency largely suppressed, anti-India sentiment is now mostly expressed through street demonstrations.