Return The Bodies

FAMILIES of the three youth killed in an encounter on the outskirts of Srinagar on December 30 have been demanding their remains. They are also demanding probe into their killing in what they have alleged was a fake encounter. The demand of the families makes sense in the wake of the killing of three labourers from Rajouri in an encounter at a Shopian village in July last year that later turned out to be fake. This too happened after the labourers' families protested and forced the army to order a probe. And to Army's credit, it was quick to indict its own soldiers. This came as a pleasant surprise to people. Army chose to voluntarily dispense justice in a case where its personnel had in the words of Army itself “exceeded” the powers vested under the AFSPA. Later the police accused an army officer and two associates of planting weapons on the bodies of three slain labourers Captain Bhoopendra Singh who is now in military detention, has been charged with murder, conspiracy and other offences. Similarly the two civilian “sources”, who were with him at the time, are in police custody.

At the recent Srinagar encounter too, the families are saying their wards had left for Srinagar on the day they were killed. One among the three youth Ather Mushtaq was just sixteen years old. Families are unwilling to believe the three were militants oroverground workers or had gone to join the ranks of militants. Significantly, police has said the three youth were not a part of its list of militants, even though Army has insisted that the three were not civilians. In a statement, the Army has said that the three had been given the opportunity to surrender but they refused.

That said, it is important that the Army follows the example of the Shopian encounter and holds a transparent probe. Both the families and the people have a right to know what happened on the day. Also, the government should sympathetically consider the demand of the families for the return of the bodies. It is heart-breaking to see the video of the father of Ather Mushtaq himself digging the grave for his slain son in his ancestral graveyard and asking for the body to be returned to him. The government's reason for not returning the bodies has been to prevent the massive funerals in view of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. And second, according to the Inspector General of Police, Kashmir, Vijay Kumar, this is to stop the glamourization of the militancy. On closer examination, the two arguments hardly seem to hold water. With vaccines for Covid-19 having been approved, there's no reason that the bodies can't be handed over now. And as far the glamourization, a sincere and serious political outreach would be far more helpful to arrest the ongoing recruitment into militancy.

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