Days after authorities in Kashmir exhumed the bodies of a doctor and a businessman killed in what they claimed was a routine military operation in Srinagar, several families in Kashmir whose kins have been gunned down and buried miles away are asking for the return of their mortal remains for decent burials.
The bodies of Muhammad Altaf Bhat, a civilian, and Mudasir Gull, who was into real estate (but a “militant sympathiser” according to the police), were exhumed following a massive outrage in the Valley after the killing of four persons in an alleged gunfight in Hyderpora.
They were buried miles away in Handwara. Their families staged a sit-in at the press enclave in Srinagar demanding the return of their bodies.
On Thursday, the governor of Jammu and Kashmir, Manoj Sinha, ordered a probe and magisterial enquiry on an immediate basis. On the same night, two bodies were given back to their families and were buried again in their ancestral graveyards by their family members and relatives.
The return of their mortal remains has prompted other families in the Valley to demand the bodies of their kin.
As Many as 78 Families Have Been Denied Burial
Almost a year has gone by after Ather Mushtaq was killed along with his two friends in HMT Srinagar in a “staged encounter”. His father, Mushtaq Ahmad, has time and again raised the demand for the return of Ather’s mortal remains.
In a video message that has gone viral on social media, Wani has demanded Ather’s body. Following his killing, Wani, who was booked under the draconian UAPA, had protested at the press enclave for days together. However, authorities had denied it to him and assured him that an investigation would be conducted and evidence of his son being a militant would be shared publicly.
“They had told us that they would show the evidence to us within 10-15 days to prove that they were militants. However, a year has almost elapsed and no such evidence has been given in the media nor to us,” Wani said.
A veteran human rights defender, Ahsan Untoo, says every human has a right to get a dignified burial. “This is a clear violation of human and constitutional values that someone is being denied his fundamental right of a dignified burial and dignified mourning.”
In Kashmir, under the garb of law and order, this right is being constantly violated, thereby putting “humanity to shame”. Untoo believes that though there are rare cases of forced burial and snatching of bodies across the world, in Kashmir, it has become a “new norm”. “Everyone gets away with it on the pretext of law and order and militancy,” he added.
Untoo said after the abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution in August 2019, over 83 “extra-judicial” killings were reported in Kashmir. In most cases, the bodies have not been returned to families.
“Out of a total of 83 dead bodies, three mortal remains of Poonch labourers were exhumed and returned to their families the previous year, and two were returned to families in Srinagar days before,” he said, adding that a total of 78 bodies have been denied proper burial, which is a “brazen violation of basic human rights”.
“These acts of forcible burial should end at least for the sake of humanity,” says Untoo.
'Ather's Grave Lies Empty'
“If you all recall,” Wani said, “I had said in Srinagar that whatever happened to me today, will happen to you all tomorrow.”
He says with the Hyderpora encounter, that has come true. “I have been waiting for the return of the body of my innocent son who was killed cold-bloodedly in the same way they [the forces] killed three civilians days ago at Hyderpora”.
“But you people probably may not feel this pain. If you can do anything, help me in getting my son’s body back to be buried in the grave that I have dug in my village,” he said.
Following his son’s killing, Wani had dug a grave at a local graveyard, which is still empty. “Eleven months have passed … I have dug a grave with my own hands and we have been waiting for the body of Shaheed Athar Mushtaq Wani.”
“Any child’s death reminds us of our child,” he said.
Wani also said that he had pleaded with Lieutenant-Governor Manoj Sinha for justice. “I had not demanded money or a government job but the body of my son, who had been buried in Sonamarg hurriedly [by authorities] in a poorly maintained grave,” he said.
‘Neither Body Nor Justice was Delivered,' Says Imran's Family
In a similar fashion, Imran Quyoom, a resident of Botengoo in Anantnag district, was killed in what his family says was a “fake encounter” in the Sursano orchards in Kulgam village on 25 July.
“He was a civilian and was killed in a staged encounter. We had requested the authorities to return his body, but they didn’t listen to our pleas at that time,” said Zahid Quyoom, brother of Imran. He added, “I wonder if they can return the bodies to Srinagar families why can’t my brother’s body be returned”.
To retrieve Imran’s body, the family in a letter (a copy of which is with The Quint) had requested authorities to look into the matter personally so that justice is delivered.
However, four months later, the family is yet to retrieve the body of their kin.
“We have been waiting since then for the dead body of my brother and for justice to be delivered. However, neither the body was given back nor justice was delivered,” Zahid said.
“We again request that they [the authorities] should now at least return his body so that we can perform his last rites according to our wishes,” he added.
“We appeal to the Governor J&K to return the body of our kin, which is our fundamental right, and order a judicial enquiry to probe his killings,” he concluded.
'They Said I Can Have Only a Glimpse': Amir Magray's Father
Similarly, in a recent alleged gunfight at Hyderpora, the authorities have not yet returned the body of the third person – Amir Ahmad Magray from Ramban – whose family is also rejecting police claims and demanding his mortal remains.
Extreme disappointment and anger pervade through the family. Mohammad Lateef Magray, the father of Amir, said “at one end, the authorities have returned the bodies to two Srinagar families, whereas, Amir’s body has not been returned so far”.
“I met the district administration on Friday and asked them to return us the body of our son. They have written to the district administration of Srinagar. But they told me that I can only have a glimpse of him [Amir], not his body."Mohammad Lateef Magray, the father of Amir Magray
Magray has also asked for the body of his son to be exhumed and returned to him.
“Let’s put aside the question of whether he was a militant or innocent, but for God’s sake, return the body of our son. It is our basic right to bury him according to our wishes. Why are you depriving us of that?” Magray added.
“I am demanding the body of my son,” he said in an appeal to the Governor, adding, “I want to see my son’s face. I want to bury him in accordance with our religion.”
Dr Sheikh Showkat Hussain, a retired professor of law from the Central University of Kashmir and a political commentator in Srinagar, said according to Geneva Conventions, the return of bodies is a basic right even in war zones.
“In Kashmir, the bodies are being denied burial on the pretext of the pandemic. But that’s hypocrisy ... If a cop or a soldier gets killed, they allow their burial. But the same is denied if the victim is a civilian or a rebel.”Sheikh Showkat Hussain, Professor of Law
“Right to life and burial can’t be suspended even during a war. So, this constitutes the flagrant violation of Geneva Conventions and, in fact, amounts to a war crime,” said Hussain.
(Ishfaq Reshi is an independent journalist based in Kashmir. He tweets @IshfaqReshi_)