The family members of Mohammad Altaf Bhat and Mudassir Ahmed – both killed in a controversial armed encounter – had assembled in Srinagar, demanding the police hand over the bodies.

The protesters pleaded with authorities on Wednesday to return the bodies so they could bury them.
The protesters pleaded with authorities on Wednesday to return the bodies so they could bury them. (AP)

Police in India-administered Kashmir have detained over a dozen relatives of two civilians killed in a controversial gunfight, hours after they protested in the disputed region’s main city. 

The protesters pleaded with authorities on Wednesday to return the bodies so they could bury them.

Police officials wearing flak jackets and carrying assault rifles swooped on a protest site in Srinagar minutes after lights were turned off in the locality. 

They dragged the relatives into a police van amid slogans by the family members in the freezing cold, eyewitnesses said.

In dramatic video clips that circulated on social media, one family member grabbed the barrel of a rifle from a police officer and pulled it to his chest while shouting: “Shoot me, terrorists.”

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'We want justice'

The family members of the two civilians, identified as Mohammad Altaf Bhat, a trader, and Mudassir Ahmed, a dental surgeon and real estate dealer, assembled in an area of Srinagar where several media offices are located and demanded the return of the bodies. 

They shouted slogans and some carried signs reading “Stop innocent killings & atrocities” and “We want justice.”

Saima Bhat, a relative of Bhat, said they had little hope of justice.

“Justice is a long journey. We just plead right now that the bodies of our loved ones be returned,” she said. “At least respect the dead and allow us to give them a dignified burial.”

The protest continued into Wednesday night and the victims' relatives held a candlelight vigil despite the severe cold.

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Police said the civilians died in the crossfire between government troops and the rebels. 

However, witnesses and families of the civilians said Indian troops used them as human shields during a standoff.

Indian authorities later secretly buried the bodies in a remote northwestern village as part of a policy that started in 2020. 

Since then, authorities have buried the bodies of hundreds of suspected rebels and their alleged associates, including civilians, in unmarked graves in remote areas, denying their families proper funerals.

Both India and Pakistan claim the divided territory in its entirety. 

Rebels in the India-administrated Kashmir have been fighting New Delhi’s rule since 1989.

READ MORE: More deaths in India-administered Kashmir as violence spirals

Source: TRTWorld and agencies