‘Return Us Their Bodies’: Slain Trio’s Families Stage Protest In Sgr

 KO Photo: Abid Bhat

Srinagar: Amid snow and bone chilling cold, the families of the three youth who were killed in the Lawaypora encounter on December 30 came all the way from South Kashmir’s Pulwama and Shopian and staged a protest in Srinagar—demanding the bodies of their kin killed in encounter.

“My son was just 16 years old, either give me his body or bury me there,” Mushtaq Wani, father of one the “militant” Athar Mushtaq told reporters amid tears and sobs.

The video and pictures of wailing father and other famous people went viral on social media with citizens joining the families in demanding the handing over of bodies and a probe.

At the same time, a picture written with snow and captioned ‘Return the bodies, somewhere in Kashmir broke the internet with people demanding return of bodies of the killed militants with hashtag #returnthebodies

The bodies of the militants killed were usually handed over to the families for the last rides. However, since April last year, citing the spread of COVID-19, the authorities have stopped giving bodies of militants to their families. The militant funerals usually witness participation of thousands of Kashmiris.

The locals accuse officials of using COVID-19 as an excuse to prevent them from attending funerals and returning bodies of their kin.

An intelligence report from Jammu and Kashmir police said the “glamorous funerals of killed militants glorify militancy,” and must be “prevented” to avoid Kashmiri youth from joining the insurgency ranks.

Rights activists have called that a violation of the Geneva Convention dealing with the “Return of the Remains and Personal Effects of the Dead’ in wartime or armed conflict.

The controversial encounter has set the political commotions in Kashmir. For the first time, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) also joined the list of politicians who are demanding a probe into the alleged fake encounter.

BJP’s General Secretary (Organisation) Ashok Koul on Sunday said they had urged the J&K government to investigate the Lawaypora encounter and to find out whether any wrong has been committed.

“If there is any wrong, that will come to fore. If there isn’t’ then it’s fine,” he said. “Police have already stated that it was investigating the case. Let’s see what comes out.” Koul was quoted by a local news agency.

The party usually sides with the Army and police version in these matters and most of the time prefers to remain silent.

Earlier, National Conference MP on January 1 claimed that Lt Governor Manoj Sinha has assured an impartial enquiry into the encounter after family members of slain youth alleged that it was a stage managed encounter as their sons were not associated with militancy.

A NC spokesman said party MP from Anantnag (south Kashmir) constituency Justice (retd) Hasnain Masoodi spoke to Sinha and expressed his anguish over the reports surrounding Wednesday’s encounter at Hokersar in the city outskirts in which three militants were killed.

Former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, who is also vice president of the NC has also demanded an inquiry into the encounter.

On Friday, PDP president Mehbooba Mufti also sought an impartial investigation into the killing and demanded that the bodies be returned to their families.

In a letter to Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha, Mufti said such incidents brought “disrepute” to the armed forces and are “a grave violation” of human rights.

The incident comes days after the police admitted that an army officer was involved in the killing of three civilians in July 2020 in a “staged gunfight” in South Kashmir’s Shopian and were buried far away from homes as unidentified militants.

Soon after the families stage protest in Srinagar’s Press enclaved, the Jammu and Kashmir Police released a video in which army personnel can be heard offering surrender to “trapped militants” inside a house at Hokersar Lawaypora here on December 29 last.

“On 29/12/20 evening after the cordon at #Hokersar, troops are repeatedly #appealing the trapped #(militants) to come out and #surrender with assurances that they will not be harmed,” police said in the tweet.

In the 27-second a drone can be seen outside hovering around the house while an army man makes an offer of surrender: “You are given a chance to surrender. Leave weapons and come out.”

Amid the massive outrage, the Jammu and Kashmir Police on December 31, accepted that the three “militants” killed in a gunfight were not on its list of militants, they however, said that two of them were “hardcore associates” (OGWs) of militants while third one might have joined very recently.”

In a statement issued here, a police spokesperson, said that parents are generally not aware about the activities of youngsters involved in militancy. The police spokesperson said that three men were given two chances Tuesday night and another chance on Wednesday but they did not surrender.

Jammu and Kashmir’s Director General of Police (DGP) Dilbagh Singh on Thursday said that he has no reason to dispute what a senior army official has stated about Lawaypora encounter in which three “militants were killed”, but added that police will “still investigate the claims made by families of slain trio.”

However, the families of the trio contested the claims of the police chief and said if their kin were militants/OGW’s why didn’t police inform them or detained their kin.

“If my brother was a militant or OGW as police claims, why didn’t they inform us ever and why weren’t our houses raided and why wasn’t Zubair ever called to the police station,” Mohammad Irfan, brother of Zubair told Kashmir Observer.

The government forces in Kashmir usually contact the family members when any youth joins militant ranks and many a times they call the parents to the encounter site to persuade the militants for surrender. However, the family members of the trio claimed that they weren’t informed until they received the call after the encounter.

“We just want a last glimpse and bury them with respect.” Said another Irfan, also a cop.

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Auqib Javeed

Auqib Javeed is special correspondent with Kashmir Observer and tweets @AuqibJaveed

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