SRINAGAR: The teenage boy who was shot dead, allegedly by security forces, in South Kashmir's Shopian district on Wednesday, was the youngest among 15 persons who travelled more than 10 kilometers in three taxis to save the militants trapped in an encounter.

Umar Kumar, 15, had returned home from school when he heard the news of the encounter in Turkuwangam blaring from the loudspeaker of a mosque in his native Pinjoora village, situated some 60 kilometers from Srinagar city of Kashmir Valley.

“He had left in a hurry, telling mother that he will come back soon. Then we heard he had gone to Turkuwangam village along with 14 other persons in three taxis to help the militants in escaping. But he was shot by forces near an orchard in Darazpora ahead of Turkuwangam,” Umar’s brother, Gulzar Kumar, said over phone.

According to reports, Zeenat-ul-Islam, a top Hizbul Mujahideen commander, was believed to be trapped in a residential house along with two more associates. However, all the three suspected militants managed to break the cordon due to intense stone-pelting by large crowds of protesters, and escaped from the house.

The trend of locals, especially teenage boys and women coming out of their homes, whenever any encounter takes place in any part of the valley, and pelting stones at the security forces who have cornered militants in a residential house or a forest, has resulted in at least one and half dozen civilian killings this year.

“You can’t help but take on the mob before it gets you. It is like fighting a two-fronted war; on one hand, there are militants with automatic guns aiming at you and on the other hand, you have to deal with violent mobs of young boys with stones in their hands that are no less lethal than bullets,” said a SSP-ranked officer posted in South Kashmir.

The 'dangerous' trend caught public imagination after the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani in a Kokernag village in 2016 but, the police officer said, the “brazenness” with which locals come to rescue militants trapped in encounters has “surpassed all previous limits”.

“Earlier, teargas and pepper gas shells and at the most pellets were enough to keep them (protesters) at bay. But the situation has changed dramatically. Now they are willing to take the bullets that are aimed at militants. The threshold - the fear of death, had been breached which is a worrying development,” the officer said.

"We have observed young boys marching on foot from adjoining villages and sometimes they travel dozens of kilometres on bikes, private cars, passenger taxis and even trucks, to reach the encounter site where they resort to stone-pelting. It only makes out job difficult," the SSP said.

Close to three dozen civilians have been killed allegedly by security forces near the sites of encounters with militants in different parts of Kashmir Valley this year alone. However, forces have blamed most of these deaths on “cross-firing”, a convenient euphemism to block any attempt to provide justice to the victims.

This April, which normally marks the arrival of spring, and consequently hope, was the bloodiest month in many years with 41 people including 16 civilians and 19 militants killed in different parts of Kashmir, throwing cold water on the government’s efforts to revive tourism to the landlocked valley where militancy has undergone a revival over the last three years.

(Cover photo Basit Zargar)