The family members of three men killed in a gunfight in Jammu and Kashmir’s Shopian district last month have claimed that they were labourers and not militants, as labelled by the security forces, News18 reported on Monday.

An unidentified police official in Rajouri told that an investigation has begun. “Whatever complaint the families have raised will be investigated,” the official said.

A relative of one of the men killed in the gunfight told News18 that he had identified him from a photograph of the “militants” that was circulated in the district’s Amshipora village.

“Imtiyaz Ahmad [one of the men killed in the gunfight] was working as a labourer in Shopian for around one month,” the father of Abrar Ahmad, another man killed by security forces told The Wire. “He asked my son Abrar and my sister-in-law’s son, also called Abrar, to come there in search of work. They left for Shopian on July 16. Since then, we don’t know anything about their whereabouts. I rang up him on July 18 but his phone was switched off.”

Former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti said that she was shocked to hear about the deaths and demanded a probe into the incident. “Armed forces have a free hand to operate with impunity,” a tweet from her official account, which is currently handled by her daughter Iltija Mufti, said. “Explains why bodies are allowed to decompose at unknown locations. Probes into recent encounters must be ordered.”

Mufti’s Peoples Democratic Party also expressed outrage over the deaths. “The encounter has raised questions on all such encounters in recent months especially in view of the new decision not to identify bodies, or hand them over to families and bury them reportedly in remote, inaccessible, unidentified places,” the party said in a statement, according to News18. “In order to justify its repressive, unconstitutional, inhuman and extremely violent measures upon the people of Kashmir, all government of India needs is a militancy narrative.”

Defense spokesperson Rajesh Kalia, meanwhile, said that the Army was investigating the incident.“We have noted social media inputs linked to the operation at Shopian on 18 Jul 2020,” he was quoted as saying by the news channel. “The three terrorists killed during the operation have not been identified and the bodies were buried based on established protocols. The army is investigating the matter.”

The three men were killed in a gunfight in Shopian’s Amshipora village on July 18. The security forces had said that they received specific inputs about the presence of militants in the area, after which they began an operation. They also said that the suspected militants had allegedly opened fire at the security forces.