Srinagar: More than two months after he went missing while in army custody, the body of a young Kashmiri man was recovered on Wednesday, March 1, from a forested area in the frontier Kupwara district.
The body of Abdul Rashid Dar, a resident of Kunan village who drove a load-carrier to make a living, was recovered in a semi-decomposed state on Wednesday from Kupwara’s Zirhama, prompting protests by his family and neighbours who demanded justice and strict punishment for the perpetrators.
Shabir Ahmad, Rashid’s elder brother, accused the army of killing him in custody, “My brother was a law-abiding citizen. There isn’t a single police case against him. I want to know why they killed him. What was his fault? I want justice,” he said, crying inconsolably.
Senior Superintendent of Police, Kupwara Yougal Manhas said that a search operation was underway in a forested area in Kupwara’s Zirhama when the body was found. Sources said the body was found buried in a shallow pit with a thin layer of soil on top which had been partially washed away due to snow and rain.
Khursheed Ahmad, the sarpanch of Kunan village, said that the administration asked Rashid’s family to visit the area for identification. “The body was badly decomposed. However, the family didn’t agree and insisted that it should be brought to Kupwara for identification,” Khursheed said, adding that the body was later transported to District Hospital Kupwara.
Shabir, who works as a Special Police Officer in J&K Police, said that the forested area where the body was found is located nearly one km from Marhama, the purported site of a search operation during which Rashid escaped from custody, as per the army’s claims. “The theory of his escape in the most militarised zone of Kashmir is a blatant lie to cover up the murder,” Shabir said.
On the contrary, Shabir believes that when the police and civilians fanned out on the army’s directions to search for Rashid on the day of his alleged escape, “we were diverted towards Marhama so that the pit (in which the body was buried) wasn’t discovered by the search teams”.
The army has, however, ruled out any foul play in the disappearance. Official sources said that the army unit involved in the case told the police that during his questioning, Rashid claimed to have knowledge of a militant hideout in Marhama, a forested area in the upper reaches of Kupwara, and he fled while leading the soldiers towards the hideout.
Shabir, who had been looking for clues in the government offices and security establishments of Kupwara district since his brother’s disappearance, said that there were red marks on his body, “as if it had been set on fire”. “His face was visibly damaged. The clothes he was wearing on the day of disappearance were also missing, except the thermal inner-wear which appeared to have been put on him in a hurry before he was buried,” Shabir told The Wire.
According to his family, Rashid was picked up from his residence in Kunan village at around 8:30 pm on December 15 last year by army soldiers from the 41 Rashtriya Rifles deployed in Kupwara’s Trehgam tehsil without informing the police, as the standard operational procedure demands.
Kunan is one of the two villages in north Kashmir’s Kupwara district, which includes Poshpora, where between 23-40 women, one of them pregnant, were allegedly raped by the army soldiers on the night of February 23, 1991, in one of the most tragic and horrifying chapters of Kashmir’s insurgency and the crackdown against it.
Accompanied by dozens of relatives and neighbours, Rashid’s family, which includes his mother Khera Begum, his ailing father Abdul Fariq Dar, two sisters and his brother Shabir, had staged a protest in Srinagar’s Press Enclave on December 21 against the alleged enforced disappearance.
Over the past more than three decades of turmoil in Kashmir, hundreds of civilians have gone missing in the custody of security forces. Although the bodies of some were found, most remain untraced. According to human rights activists, more than 8,000 persons have gone missing in Kashmir since 1989. The families of the ‘missing’ victims used to stage a protest demanding their whereabouts in Srinagar’s Press Colony on the 10th of every month, but the practice was stopped after the Union government read down Article 370 in 2019 and downgraded the erstwhile state into two union territories.
As the tragic news of Rashid’s death and the recovery of his body spread, a pall of gloom descended on his native village of Kunan where agitated residents gathered in dozens and shouted anti-army and anti-BJP slogans, while demanding strict punishment for the perpetrators.
A video from the scene of the protest accessed by The Wire shows a group of women leading the funeral procession of Rashid comprising a large crowd of men, children and elderly. One group of men is shouldering Rashid’s body, laid out on a stretcher. Ahead of them, two youngsters are holding a flex banner saying “Shaheed Ab Rashid Dar” with four photos of Rashid along with other details such as the date of “martyrdom”, the name of the village and a couple of emotional Urdu couplets.
“Hang the collaborator,” a young woman leading the procession shouted at the top of her voice, raising her right arm in the air, to which the crowd chorused back: “Hang him, hang him”. She went on: “Punish the Indian Army,” and the crowd responded with “punish them, punish them.”
Amid emotional scenes, hundreds of grief-stricken people participated in Rashid’s funeral prayers following which he was laid to rest at their ancestral graveyard at around 8 pm on Wednesday. Shabir, who spoke with The Wire after burying his brother, said that he had been visiting the offices and residences of the civil and security administration officials to keep up the pressure on the investigators to trace his brother.
“So many people have disappeared in Kupwara without a trace in the past 30 years. I think my brother is perhaps the first disappeared person who has been found, even if as a corpse. By bringing his body back home, at least I can offer prayers for him at his grave,” Shabir said.