NEW DELHI: There are fears that increasing state violence in Kashmir will push the region into a full-blown insurgency after a photograph of a toddler atop the bloodsoaked body of his grandfather went viral, triggering anger and accusations of brutality against Indian security forces.
The man, 65-year-old Bashir Ahmed Khan, was traveling with his 3-year-old grandson from Srinagar to Handwara town, when the pair were caught in the crossfire between militants and the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF).
The inspector general of Kashmir Police, Vijay Kumar, told reporters on Wednesday that militants from Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) carried out the attack that led to the deaths of a CRPF member and a civilian. He dismissed the family’s accusations that Khan was killed by security forces by saying that they were “under militant threat.”
“I want to ask them whether they were present at the site of the incident,” Kumar said. “Did they see themselves who fired? Bashir sahib was driving his car and a kid was traveling with him. As firing took place, he panicked and tried to escape along with the kid, and he was hit by a bullet and died.”
Khan’s relatives said they did not believe the official account.
The victim’s nephew, Aijaz Ahmad, said the toddler had given a different version of events. “The kid who was with my uncle told his mother that it was the police that hit his grandfather,” Ahmad told Arab News. “Why should the 3-year-old boy tell a lie? I trust what the boy says. It was a cold-blooded murder.”
Ahmad reached Sopore to see his uncle within two hours after the incident and said that he did not see a single dent or scratch on the car. “How come, in the whole chaos, the car remained untouched? My experience tells me that when you are caught in a crossfire you are hit and blood splatters in the car, but there was no scratch on the car.”
According to political analysts, the region was witnessing the worst kind of violence on its own people.
“What is happening in Kashmir is the rampant genocide of the young population,” said rights activist Prof. Sheikh Showkat Hussain from the Central University of Kashmir in Srinagar. “Young boys are being branded as militants and killed in encounters. There is no hope the way things are going. It may push the valley into a full-blown insurgency. The situation is not in the control of the government.”
Kumar said after the incident that security forces had rescued the boy, but Kashmiris said the tragedy was being used as a propaganda tool by the state.
“Everything becomes a propaganda tool in the bloody violence in Kashmir,” Omar Abdullah, former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, said in a Twitter post on Wednesday.
The situation in Jammu and Kashmir has been volatile since last August, when New Delhi scrapped Article 370 of India’s constitution which granted the region special autonomous status and gave its locals specific rights.
The viral photo of the toddler with his grandfather’s body drew international attention, with the UN calling for the man’s killers to be held accountable.
The killing, and the response to the photo, followed the death of a six-year-old boy in a similar scenario in South Kashmir’s Anantnag district last week.
“We will look into it,” Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, told the media on Wednesday. “Obviously, people who were responsible need to be brought to account. But let me look further into it.”
The reactions were mocked by India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), with its spokesman Sambit Patra captioning the picture with the words “PULITZER LOVERS??” — a reference to last year’s Pulitzer prize for three Kashmiri journalists who depicted life in the region as India revoked its autonomy.
Kashmiris said that Wednesday’s incident would heap further psychological damage on the younger generation.
“I don’t know whether that photo in which the child was sitting on the dead body of his grandfather was real, but I know the psychological impact it will have on the boy and the new generation of youngsters in Kashmir,” Srinagar-based lawyer Deeba Ashraf told Arab News. “A few days back, another child got killed in Anantnag in the same situation and I couldn’t sleep the whole night. Indeed, I see hopelessness. We are mentally suffering now.”