Kashmir: Teenager Buried Discreetly in Graveyard Reserved for Unidentified Militants

Police said Hazim Shafi Bhat's body was not handed over to the family to prevent people from gathering in view of the COVID-19 situation.

Srinagar: A disabled teenage student who was killed in the Handwara area of north Kashmir was buried discreetly in a graveyard reserved for unidentified militants, in a border town.

The family of the slain boy, Hazim Shafi Bhat, said the police refused to hand over their son’s body to them to be buried in a family graveyard.

A small number of the boy’s relatives, including his parents, were permitted to participate in his funeral, which was held miles away from his home in Wangam village of Handwara, during the wee hours of Tuesday.

Hazim’s mother was among those who travelled to Gauntamulla-Sheeri in frontier Uri town of Baramulla to have the last glimpse of her son before he was lowered into the grave.

The killings

Hazmi was killed on Monday evening after security forces retaliated to an attack by militants on a CRPF party in Wangam village of Handwara. Three paramilitary officers were killed in the attack.

A resident of Khaipora village, Hazim, along with a group of boys, was in his orchard, around 100 meters from the spot of the attack when they heard gunshots, said Feroz Ahmad, the slain boy’s cousin.

He said while the other boys managed to escape from the area, taking the main road, Hazim tried to run from the other side. “But he was stranded near an irrigation canal and was hit by a bullet there,” said Ahmad.

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During the wreath-laying ceremony of the three CRPF men, the J&K director general of police (DGP) Dilbag Singh said the forces had laid a naka in the area.

“Some civilians were moving in the area. They were asked to stop. Two militants who were behind the civilians opened fire. The CRPF retaliated,” said the DGP.

A Class VII student, Hazim was rushed to a local hospital where doctors declared him brought dead. He was the only son of the Bhat family and eldest of four siblings.

According to Ahmad, his cousin had a speech disorder and physical disabilities. “Though he was physically weak too, his condition had improved over the years. He was a hardworking student who had a dream to pursue higher studies,” said Ahmad. “His dreams were cut short.”

The burial

As news of the boy’s death spread, the police took the body into custody. On Tuesday, after the predawn prayers, a team of officials from civil administration knocked on the door of the Bhat family. According to the boy’s uncle Muhammad Shafi Bhat, the family was informed that Hazim would be buried at Sheeri graveyard.

“The authorities allowed only 18 persons, including Hazim’s parents and close relatives, to travel to Uri to participate in the funeral,” said Muhammad Shafi Bhat.

Handwarda superintendent of police G.V. Sandeep Chakravarthy said the body was taken to Baramulla in view of the COVID-19 guidelines to prevent the assembly of people. “He was buried there (in Baramulla) due to COVID-19 situation, as there were chances of people assembling at his funeral. He was buried in the presence of family members,” said the SSP.

A neighbour said the death has devastated the family. “It is tragic that the family was not even allowed to hold the funeral properly,” said the neighbour, wishing not to be named.

In a statement, police said the boy was killed in “cross-firing”, following the attack by the militants. “The fire was retaliated, however during the ensuing firefight three CRPF personnel of 92 BN sustained grievous gunshot injuries who later on succumbed to their injuries,” said the statement. “During the cross-firing, one civilian also got killed.”

This is the first time a body of a civilian killed in firing in Kashmir was not handed over to the family for burial. Shafi is the first civilian buried in the graveyard reserved for unidentified and non-local militants.

In the past month, since the government-mandated lockdown began in Kashmir, police have started to bury militants, claimed by families from different districts of Kashmir, at non-descript places including Sheeri graveyard, which is located on the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad road.

This is a complete departure from the usual practice of handing over the bodies of local militants to their families for burial.

Since the COVID-19 lockdown, at least 20 militants have been killed in gunfights, the majority of them in south Kashmir. Two civilians, described by police as “militant associates” were also killed during this period – one among them was an engineering graduate and the son of an assistant sub-inspector of J&K police.

Last month, the J&K police filed a case against people who assembled at the funeral of a militant killed in encounter in north Kashmir. Charges included violating an order banning gatherings to contain the spread of the coronavirus.