Page last updated at 10:07 GMT, Thursday, 28 August 2008 11:07 UK

The families grieving in Kashmir

Imran Ahmed Wani's family
Imran Ahmed Wani's family - he was building a house for them

The Muslim-dominated Kashmir valley has been beset with violence as Indian security forces confront huge rallies by Kashmiris calling for independence from India. The BBC's Soutik Biswas in Srinagar speaks to families and friends of some of the victims.

In a picture taken on a mobile phone 10 days before his death, 25-year-old Imran Ahmed Wani fixes a shy gaze at the camera with a disarming smile.

As his friends tell it, Imran was an average young Kashmiri man, working hard, playing cricket, and watching Bollywood films.

He also exemplified those in the region's new generation, trying to make the best of opportunities thrown up by a modest economic boom during the years of relative calm since Indian and Pakistan signed a ceasefire in Kashmir.

Imran Ahmed Wani
Imran Ahmed Wani - 10 days before his death

Imran recently quit his job as a field officer with a mobile telephone service company to work as a building contractor in his hometown, Srinagar, which has seen a frenzied real estate boom.

His sisters were on their way to what looked like promising careers: Aniza, 27, had begun work as an engineer in the irrigation department; and 22-year-old Shabila, was working as an accountant.

In his middle-class Baghibehtab neighbourhood, Imran's big ambition was to finish constructing the family home.

All that was before 13 August, when Imran died, shot in the chest by Indian security forces. He joined some 26 others who were shot dead as the forces battled to restore order in the troubled Muslim majority Kashmir valley.

What began as a reaction to a controversial row over transfer of land to a Hindu trust has now snowballed into a fully-fledged nationalist uprising in the valley.

A huge anti-India rally in Srinagar - 22 August
There have been massive rallies calling for independence from India

"Look at the bricks, look at the stone chips. These are the last things he bought," says his friend, Sheikh Suhail, 24, standing on the dusty second storey of the house.

Two unfinished rooms, some bricks, a heap of stone chips - that's what are left of the last memories of his friend.

"He was a sportsman, he was a good worker. He was never interested in politics. But he had to die," says Suhail, his eyes welling up.

Why did Imran Ahmed Wani die?

Truth in Kashmir is often subjective - it is home to a conflict which is, as foreign policy analyst Stephen Cohen says, "a clash between identities, imagination, and history as it is a conflict over territory, resources and peoples".

Shots rang out

Imran's friends and family say that he was standing on the side of the main road that skirts their neighbourhood. He was watching retreating protesters who were being chased by soldiers.

Then the shots rang out and Imran slumped. He lay on the road bleeding till an ambulance arrived.

Sheikh Suhail and a few others dragged him inside the ambulance. On the way, they say, it was stopped by more troops, its passengers hit by them, and only then allowed to proceed. Imran had bled to death by the time he reached the hospital.

Imran's friends show local newspaper photographs of the ambulance surrounded by security forces - it is obvious that there is a scuffle going on - with the dying man's legs dangling outside the vehicle.

The security forces tell a different story.

A spokesman for the federal paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force, Prabhakar Tripathi, says that its soldiers retaliated after somebody in the mob had fired on them.

And no, he insists, the forces have not attacked any ambulances.

"Of course, some innocents can get killed. When mobs attack us and we are forced to open fire as a last resort, some people who get killed may not be militants," says Mr Tripathi.

So the circumstances of Imran Ahmed Wani's may always be disputed.

'Called to his death'

Javed Ahmed Mir's family
Javed Ahmed Mir's family - he had three jobs to support them

In a grimy alley in Baghibehtab, Javed Ahmed Mir's family is asking the same question: Why did he die?

A photograph shows him as a man with a long face and calm eyes in a grey striped sweater and white slacks.

The 35-year-old worked hard to support his wife and three sons, aged 15, 13 and 10.

He juggled three jobs: a silk factory worker, a cable TV salesman and a video cameraman for a local news channel.

Like Imran, he was aiming to finish his half-constructed one-storey home.

He died on the same day as Imran - a few minutes later - on the same road.

"He was called out to his death, literally," says a neighbour, Tariq Sharif.

Soldiers search an auto-rickshaw taking a passenger to hospital in Srinagar during curfew -  26 August
Soldiers search an auto-rickshaw taking a passenger to hospital

His family says that Javed was attending a neighbour's wedding when his news channel called up and told him that they were sending down a camera so that he could film the protest on the main road.

He ambled up to the road and waited for the office vehicle to arrive with the camera. It never did, and Javed was shot through his head during the melee.

"He only had work on his mind. That's why he ran to get the camera," says his wife, Haifa.

Across the town, in Dalgate's Hajjan area, Ghulam Qadir, 62, who ran a barber shop in the area was shot by the security forces his neighbours say, right outside the family home last Sunday.

Some say Mr Qadir and his son, Yaqub, were walking down the street when they were "targeted". Others say Mr Qadir was at home and ran out when he heard that Yaqub, who was bringing milk, was being roughed up by troops outside.

They say when he protested, the troops fired at both father and son. Mr Qadir died on the spot, with a bullet in his heart; and Yaqub is fighting for his life in hospital.

The CRPF's Mr Tripathi says the forces fired in Hajjan after an irate local mob "ransacked" a troops sentry post, and tried to snatch their arms.

"The troops fired three bullets in self-defence", he says.

Mr Qadir, neighbours say, was "pretty friendly" with many troops who are stationed at an 18-year-old camp in the area.

The only thing which appears to be the undisputed truth on the narrow streets of Hajjan are the dry speckles of blood on the brick wall of a house close to Mr Qadir's.

"See, the blood of the martyr is still prominent," a neighbour says.

Kashmir's newly buried men and women are maybe a mere addition to cold statistic of the dead in the Kashmir valley, but for the majority of its 6.7 million people, they are the new 'martyrs'.

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