Fresh protests erupted in Kashmir on Saturday after a 13-year-old boy allegedly died of pellet injuries and security forces fired tear gas shells on thousands of people during his funeral procession in the curfew-bound Valley.
Images of mourners huddled together trying to prevent the body, draped in green, from falling from their hands as police rained tear gas shells went viral on social media, evoking widespread anger in the Valley that has remained under lockdown for nearly three months.
The death of Junaid Ahmed, a resident of Saidepora in Srinagar, also brought back into focus the use of pellet guns which have left hundreds of people with eye injuries, some of them losing their sight in both eyes.
Junaid was the 89th person to die in Kashmir since the killing of militant commander Burhan Wani on July 8 sparked street protests across the Valley. The Centre responded by sending more security personnel and clamping down on mobile and internet services besides placing vast areas under curfew.
Two policemen have also been killed and hundreds of government forces injured during the protests, the biggest in six years.
The ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) of chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, which has so far defended the use of force to control stone-pelting protesters, on Saturday demanded a “time-bound probe” into the death of the minor and said he was not involved in protests.
Junaid was allegedly hit by pellets on Friday afternoon when security forces opened fire on protesters in Saidepora.
A relative of Junaid said the boy was targeted from a 20-25 feet distance by security forces when the protests had subsided and the boy was with his mother.
He succumbed to his injuries in the early hours on Saturday at Sheri Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences. Doctors said Junaid had multiple pellet wounds on his head, chest and other parts of body.
“90+ days of curfew, 90+ deaths, violence used on people continuing to make funerals and demonstrations indistinguishable,” wrote academic Nitasha Koul, who also shared the image on Facebook.
North City superintendent of police Khalid Sajad said Junaid was hit by pellets during an incident of stone-pelting and also defended firing on the mourners.
“We never wanted to turn things ugly and were trying to allow a safe passage to the funeral procession. But there were some people who wanted to escalate the situation. They pelted stones on us and we retaliated,” Sajad said.
A panel set up by the Centre had suggested that pellet guns be used only in extreme situations. Local residents and international rights groups are seeking a ban on the guns.
The ongoing Kashmir unrest has also ratcheted up hostilities between India and Pakistan with Islamabad hailing Wani as a martyr and describing the protests as the “Kashmiri intifada” (uprising).
The separatist leadership including hardliner Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Yasin Malik and Shabir Shah continue to be either under house arrest or in custody of police.
The joint separatist leadership has extended the latest protest calendar to October 13 and urged people to occupy all the roads leading to police stations on October 10.