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Teenager Dies in Kashmir Amid Protests After Autonomy Was Revoked

NEW DELHI — A 16-year-old Kashmiri boy has died after security officers hit him in the face with buckshot, several witnesses said — the first officially confirmed death linked to protests since the Indian government revoked Kashmir’s autonomy a month ago.

The teenager, Asrar Ahmed Khan, had just finished playing cricket in a narrow, brick-walled lane on the evening of Aug. 6 when security forces opened fire on a crowd, several neighbors said. Asrar was knocked to the ground and rushed to the hospital, where he remained in critical condition until his death on Tuesday.

In a neighborhood where antigovernment feeling is painted on the walls — “Go back, Indian dogs,” reads one message — Asrar was known as a smart young man who stayed away from protests and excelled in school, scoring 495 out of 500 on a recent exam.

“Son, dear son, what good were all the marks you got?” cried a group of women, including his mother, who gathered at his home on Wednesday.

The Indian authorities acknowledged that Asrar had died from injuries sustained on Aug. 6, but said they did not know the specific cause of death. Lt. Gen. K.S. Dhillon, an army commander, said the young man had been hit in the head with a stone thrown by a protester.

Kashmir has been simmering with fury since Aug. 5, when the Indian government announced that it was stripping away the special status the state has held for more than 70 years and splitting the territory into two federally controlled enclaves.

In the hours before the announcement, security forces cut off internet, mobile phone and landline service in the region. They then rounded up more than 2,000 Kashmiri intellectuals, including teachers, students, rights activists, and political and business leaders. Most, if not all, have been detained without being formally charged.

Among them is Mubeen Shah, a wealthy merchant and past president of the Kashmir chamber of commerce. He was flown to a prison in Agra, home to the Taj Mahal, more than 500 miles away.

His wife, Asifa Mubeen, said she was turned away last week when she went to see him.

Ms. Mubeen said a police superintendent at the prison had pulled out a file on her husband that was labeled “P.S.A.” — suggesting that he had been detained under the Public Safety Act, which allows the Indian authorities to hold people who are deemed threats to the state without charge for up to two years.

She said the officer told her that he did not have permission for the family to meet Mr. Shah, who is 63 and has several health issues, including a urinary tract infection.

“The situation is grim,” Ms. Mubeen said. “It’s really difficult to even explain our pain, the pain of Kashmir. My pain is nothing compared to that of the mothers whose children have been taken. At least I know where my husband is.”

Kashmir has been haunted by bloodshed, militancy and unrest for decades. It lies between Muslim-dominated Pakistan and Hindu-dominated India, and parts of it are claimed by both nations, nuclear-armed rivals that have gone to war several times.

The Indian-administered state of Jammu and Kashmir, which includes the restive Kashmir Valley, is India’s only Muslim-majority state. Hindu nationalists in India’s governing party have been seeking for years to bring it to heel.

Since Aug. 5, the valley has remained locked down. Most shops are shuttered, soldiers wearing metal face masks stand on nearly every corner and along every lane, and few children are attending school. Most phones still do not work.

Sporadic protests continue to erupt — some big, involving thousands, and others consisting of a few young men, scarves over their faces, hurling rocks at security officers and scampering away.

Soldiers often fire tear gas and buckshot into the crowds of protesters. This has been a tactic for years, and hundreds of people have been left blind. In Kashmir, it’s called Dead Eyes.

Neighbors and witnesses say that Asrar was caught in the crossfire during one of these episodes. It was around 6:30 p.m., when many soldiers withdraw from the streets and return to their barracks.

They are often pelted with stones as they leave, which witnesses said was what happened on the evening of Aug. 6. They said the soldiers had responded by firing tear gas and buckshot.

Neighbors said that Asrar was not one of the rock-throwers, but had been outside playing cricket at the time. He was knocked down by a blast of buckshot at close range, witnesses said, and possibly by a canister of tear gas.

The authorities said he was 18; his family said he was 16 and in high school.

At the hospital, he was put on a ventilator but slipped into critical condition. His condition had worsened in the past few days, and he died on Tuesday around 7:30 p.m.

Security forces quickly barricaded his neighborhood, bracing for an outbreak of protests.

On Wednesday morning, his family buried him in a nearby graveyard.

Family members said that Asrar was a happy boy and never threw rocks at soldiers. His only mistake, they said, was playing outside that night.

Source: NYT > World News

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