Baramulla: Amid rains and lockdown, 55-year-old Abdul Majid Mir of Gantamulla area of north Kashmir’s Baramulla district and five other locals on Friday evening quietly buried bodies of two militants in a graveyard located on the scenic Srinagar-Muzaffarabad road.
Mir, who owns a tea stall in the village, has been performing the task of digging graves for unidentified militants killed in the encounters with forces in different parts of the Valley over the past four years and was called here for the burial.
“I received a phone call from the local police at around 1 pm to get ready for performing the last rites of two militants. The bodies were brought here at around 4 o’clock in the afternoon, and we completed the entire burial process by 7 pm,” he says. Mir says he could not see the faces of the slain militants as they were wrapped in shrouds.
Mir and villagers of Gantamulla have silently buried more than 100 militants in this graveyard meant only for unidentified and non-local militants, as their funeral in populated areas of Kashmir can trigger law and order problems.
Two families from Shopian claim that these bodies are of their kins who had joined militancy and were killed in a gunfight with the forces in Dairoo area of the district on Friday. They claimed that the two were Asif Ahmad Dar and Rahil Hamid Magray, who had respectively joined militant groups nearly 13 months and 2.5 years back.
If these claims prove to be true, this will be the first time in the three-decade-old armed conflict in Kashmir that bodies of local militants have not been handed over to their families and buried at faraway places. “One of the slain militants is my brother,” says Rafi Ahmad of Shopian town. He says this brother called him on Friday morning when he was trapped in an encounter.
“I received a phone call from an unknown number at around 4:55 am. I did not pick up the call at the first instance. When the
phone rang again, I received the call. The person on other side was my brother Asif. He told me, ‘We are trapped in an encounter. Please ask our family to forgive me.’ That was our last conversation,” said Rafi. He says he informed the police later that his brother’s body should be handed over to them after the gun fight was over.
“They kept telling me throughout the day that they would hand over the body to the family. They cited excuses like social distancing for the delay, but we were shocked when we came to know that my brother and the other person have been buried in Baramulla,” he says.
Ghulam Nabi Magray of Ganapora, Shopian says the other slain militant is his nephew Rahil Hamid. “I recognised him from the photos circulated on social media. We want to give him a decent burial. How can they claim that they are unidentified bodies when we have recognised them from photos?” Magray asks.
The families on Tuesday morning approached the deputy commissioner, Baramulla for exhumation of the bodies.
So far, the procedure has been to hand over bodies of local militants to their families, while those of unidentified and non-local militants are buried in few graveyards in remote areas of Baramulla and Kupwara districts.
Families of local militants have also been allowed to exhume bodies from different graveyards and take them to their villages for burial. Legal formalities were followed before the bodies were exhumed.
A senior police officer posted in south Kashmir said that these bodies are of unidentified militants. When contacted, deputy commissioner Shopian, Choudhary Muhammad Yasin said the police would undertake an identification process in accordance with the rules. When contacted, deputy commissioner, Baramulla, Ghulam Nabi Itoo said the two families had approached him this morning for exhumation of the bodies.
“I have written to senior superintendent of police, Baramulla for the report,” he said, adding that a decision will be taken on the matter after receiving the report.
Legal experts and human rights activists say that people have the right to give their dead kin decent burials. “The right to possession of a human dead body for the purpose of a funeral in accordance with one’s religion is a settled position of law. This right is enshrined in the constitution, under Article 25,” says Irfan Hafiz Lone, a lawyer in Baramulla.
Executive director, South Asia Human Rights Documentation Centre, Ravi Nair says that civilised behaviour requires that the next of kin be given the dead body when they claim it. “Unclaimed bodies can be disposed of by the police. The prison manuals and extant law in India gives too much latitude to the state. India did not return the bodies of Maqbool Bhat or Afzal Guru, to name just two,” he says.
In 1995, the Supreme Court observed that the right to dignity and fair treatment under Article 21 of the constitution is “not only available to a living man but also to his body after his death”.
The move comes at a time when authorities have imposed restrictions across the Kashmir Valley as part of the pan-India lockdown announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to control the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Recently, the J&K police registered an FIR against people who gathered at the funeral of a Jaish-e-Muhammad militant in Sopore area of north Kashmir, for violating COVID-19 protocols and government directives vis-à-vis social distancing.