Mushtaq Ahmed Wani and six others were charged under harsh anti-terror law in the annexed region after Indian soldiers fatally shot his 16-year-old son and denied him a proper funeral.

Mushtaq Ahmad Wani, father of 16-year-old Athar Mushtaq, who was fatally shot by Indian troops grieves south of Srinagar, India-administered Kashmir on January 5, 2021.
Mushtaq Ahmad Wani, father of 16-year-old Athar Mushtaq, who was fatally shot by Indian troops grieves south of Srinagar, India-administered Kashmir on January 5, 2021. (AP)

Police have charged a Kashmiri father seeking the body of his teenage son, who was slain by the Indian forces, with conspiring to organise illegal processions in the disputed region.

Indian police on Monday said Mushtaq Ahmed and six others, including his two brothers, were charged last week under India's harsh anti-terror law, the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.

Government forces fatally shot Ahmed's 16-year-old son, Athar Mushtaq, and two other young men on December 30 during what police described as a gunfight after the men refused to surrender on the outskirts of Srinagar city in India-administered Kashmir. 

They described the men as "hardcore associates of terrorists" opposed to Indian rule in Kashmir.

Authorities buried them at a remote graveyard about 115 kilometres from their ancestral villages. 

READ MORE: Indian troops kill Kashmir 'rebels' but families say they were innocent

India denies proper funerals to slain

Under a policy started in April 2020, Indian authorities have buried over 150 alleged Kashmiri rebels in unmarked graves, denying their families proper funerals. 

The policy has added to widespread anti-India anger in the region.

The young men's families have protested repeatedly seeking their bodies while insisting they were not rebels and were killed in cold blood. 

There is no way to independently confirm either claim.

The killings and remote burial drew widespread public mourning.

Videos on social media in which Ahmed sought his son's body triggered an outburst of emotions as thousands rallied behind a "return the bodies" campaign.

Last month, Ahmed dug a grave for his son at his village, demanding that his body be exhumed and returned for burial at his ancestral graveyard. 

The grave remains empty.

READ MORE: Indian army 'planted weapons' on bodies of slain Kashmir civilians

'Police are seeking my silence'

Two police officials who spoke on condition of anonymity in keeping with government regulations said the defendants conspired to organise illegal processions, abetted anti-national elements and spread disaffection against the state.

The defendants have not yet been taken into custody.

The anti-terror law was amended in 2019 to allow the government to designate an individual as a terrorist. 

Police can detain a person for six months without producing any evidence, and the accused can subsequently be imprisoned for up to seven years. 

Rights activists have called the law draconian.

"Police are seeking my silence," Ahmed said by phone from his home on Monday. 

"But I refuse to be silenced. I will keep seeking justice and my son’s body."

READ MORE: In pictures: What Kashmir is like a year after having its autonomy stripped

Staged gunfights

Kashmiris for years have accused Indian troops of targeting civilians and abuse of power with sweeping impunity. 

Troops have been accused of staging gunfights and then saying the victims were militants to claim rewards and promotions.

Athar’s killing came months after a rare admission of wrongdoing by the Indian military, which conceded that soldiers exceeded their legal powers in the deaths of three local men it initially described as Pakistani terrorists. 

Police concluded that an Indian army officer and two civilian "army sources" killed the three labourers "after stripping them of their identities and tagging them as hardcore terrorists." 

The officer has been charged with murder.

READ MORE: A sleepy Kashmiri village and the men killed by Indian Forces

Kashmir conflict and annexation 

India has long relied on military force to retain control over the portion of Kashmir it administers.

It has fought two wars over the region with Pakistan, which also claims the mountainous territory. 

An armed uprising since 1989 against Indian control and subsequent Indian crackdown has killed tens of thousands of civilians, rebels, and government soldiers and police.

In August 2019, India revoked Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status, clamped curfews and communication blackouts on the annexed territory, and arrested thousands, sparking outrage and economic suffering. 

Since then, authorities have introduced new laws and implemented policies that critics say are part of a plan to colonise the volatile region with Indian settlers.

Indian officials have said such measures are necessary to integrate the region with India, foster greater economic development, and stop threats from "anti-national elements" and Pakistan.

READ MORE: Anti-India clashes in Kashmir after troops kill civilian in 'cold blood'

Source: AP