Srinagar, Indian-administered Kashmir – A 19-year-old civilian has been shot dead in Indian-administered Kashmir in what his family called “cold-blooded murder” by Indian forces.
It was the 12th civilian killing this month in the region either by rebel fighters or security forces.
Authorities said the teenager was on Sunday caught up in “cross-firing”, a term used by police to describe a gun battle between Indian forces and rebels, in Shopian in south Kashmir.
The young man was identified as Shahid Ahmad Rather, a college student, who also worked as an apple-picking labourer.
His brother Zubair Ahmad told Al Jazeera that Shahid had not been home for the last four days as it was the harvest season in Shopian.
“I spoke to him last night and we decided that we will go home together today. I had informed my mother as well. But when I called him this morning no one responded. I got a call then that he was killed by the paramilitary forces near the camp for no reason when he was just walking,” Zubair said.
The family has not been given the body yet for the last rites, he added.
“They might frame him in some militancy case now to justify not giving us the body,” Zubair said, referring to a new rule by the government in Kashmir, which buries killed rebels in far away graveyards and does not allow their families to have a public funeral.
The police said in a statement “unidentified terrorists attacked” a security detail at Babapora village in Shopian. Paramilitary troops retaliated and during the “cross-firing one unidentified person got killed”.
Junaid Khan, a police spokesman, confirmed to Al Jazeera the paramilitary troops were “fired upon by the militants” and one civilian was hit in the crossfire.
The family, however, rejected the official account. “Shahid was killed in a cold-blooded murder without any reason,” said Zubair.
The police said they are investigating the incident further.
‘Operate with impunity’
A photo of the incident that surfaced on social media showed the young man lying on the road with his arms inside his pheran, a long robe, with a white bag and apples scattered around him.
Former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, who shared the picture in a tweet, said, “It is sad that armed forces show little restraint and operate with such impunity.”
A 50-year-old woman from Kharpora village, who did not want to be named, said the slain teenager, her neighbour, was working hard to help his poor family and ailing father.
“The forces justify these killings and associate our children with armed groups,” she said, adding “the boy had just gone to do his work”.
The latest incident has taken the total number of killings this month to 39, which includes 17 rebels, 12 civilians, and 10 Indian soldiers. There has been a spike in the number of attacks on non-locals and minority communities in the restive region.
To prevent attacks, security deployments have been strengthened with the additional surveillance and troop deployments added to the streets.
More than 900 people, most of them associated with protests in the past, have been detained in the latest crackdown following the spike in violence.
The killing of Rather coincides with the visit of India’s Home Minister Amit Shah, who is on his first visit to Kashmir after the scrapping of the region’s special status two years ago.
On Sunday, Shah addressed a rally of his supporters in the southern city of Jammu, a Hindu majority region. His three-day visit concludes on Monday evening.