Missing Soldier’s Case Creating Grave Hunt in Kashmir

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Shakir Manzoor’s family members during protest in Srinagar.

JK top cop’s latest statement about a missing Kashmiri soldier has only made the summer disappearance case look more intriguing when his father is already doing unthinkable back home.

RESHIPORA, Shopian – Surrounded by sighing and solidarity-spirited simpletons, Manzoor Wagay, 54, is dragging hookah in a manic manner.

The grief, it seems, has only become a festering wound for a distraught father whose summer search for his son has already passed through the harsh winter, before getting renewed by the spring statement of Jammu and Kashmir’s Police Chief, Dilbagh Singh.

Talking to reporters on the sidelines of the inauguration of U-19 cricket tournament at SK Stadium Srinagar on March 20, 2021, DGP Singh said that there is no clue of the missing Territorial Army soldier from Shopian, who went missing last August.

“Police have not closed the case and investigations are on,” Singh said. “It’s not clear where he was buried by the militants. Whenever we get any information, his family will accordingly be informed.”

But back home, Wagay is spearheading his own teeming search campaign.

Since last summer when his visiting son vanished into thin air, the father has been digging orchards and paddy fields with shovels. He even rented a bulldozer and dug deep into the soft earth near a bridge in Landoora village in search of his son’s dead body. He even stormed the shelters of suspects, and exhausted his savings to travel to places in identifying the unknown bodies.

Marnie’ ky’ss damas taa’m tchandaei’ bei’ pan’nis nich’aeiv sy’einz laa’sh (I’ll search the dead body of my son till my last breath),” Wagay said, as all eyes in the room stared him through the smokescreen created by his manic hookah-dragging.

“I know he has been buried closer to home. I know that. I will find him one day. Sooner or later.”

Manzoor Wagay showing his son’s blood-stained ripped clothes.

Villagers of Reshipora are equally throwing their weight behind Wagay’s search campaign. They call the missing soldier as “one of their own”.

“For over the first 40 days of his disappearance, more than 400 people from this village joined me to locate the body but till date I didn’t find any clue,” Wagay, a farmer, rued.

As the distraught father completed two rounds of smoking pot within 20 minutes, the room full of villagers started lauding his courage. These home audiences have now become esprit de corps for the family of the missing village boy — whose soldier shift couldn’t eclipse his Samaritan nature in the raging reality of the southern apple bowl.

“In Wagay’s shoes,” said local villager, Abdul Rashid, “I would have long died.”

Before his army days.

The unending mystery and unthinkable search stemmed on August 2, 2020, when Wagay’s son, Shakir Manzoor, 24, a rifleman with the 162 Battalion of Indian Army’s Territorial Army unit, had come home to celebrate Eid.

Later, driving back in his car to his base camp in Balapora Shopian, he was cut short and allegedly abducted by militants.

Wagay later found Shakir’s TaTa Brezza torched in Rambhama area of neighbouring Kulgam district.

“I knew the militants who abducted him,” Wagay continued. “I even went to their families but it never helped.”

Shakir Manzoor.

However, the only clue apparently sealing the fate of Wagay’s soldier son was an unverified audio surfacing on social media a week after the abduction.

A person, suspected to be a militant, can be heard claiming to have killed the abducted soldier.

“We can understand his family’s pain but we can’t return his body to them because of coronavirus — so that a lot of people don’t gather for his funeral, in the same way that the army hides and buries the bodies of dead Mujahideen in unmarked graves,” the voice said.

Earlier, as contagion enforced another lockdown in the valley, the police started denying dead bodies of local militants to their families on the ground of “maintaining strict Covid protocol”.

On Duty.

In a video appeal, Wagay made fervent appeals to militants to handover the dead body of his son.

“If he has died, please return his body. That is our right. My son was in the Army. It is your job to fight them (Army). I have no complaints against you if you have killed him, but I will have a complaint if his body is not returned.”

Following this, the villagers found Shakir’s ripped and blood-stained clothes at three different places in an orchard near his home.

“With that, we lost the hope of Shakir being alive,” said Nazir Ahmad, the missing soldier’s uncle.

“Our only wish was to see him one last time, but we don’t see that happening.”

Even Shakir’s mother, said Wagay, has donated her gold to faith-healers for the farewell moment.

Snapped last time.

A day after Shakir’s disappearance, army tweeted a statement, saying they suspected the soldier had been abducted by militants and that his burnt car was found.

Later, on August 28, 2020, Kashmir police chief, IGP Vijay Kumar said that two militants, Shakoor Parray, and his associate Suhail Bhat, “who were involved in Shakir’s abduction”, were killed in a joint operation of government forces.

“As of now,” Amritpal Singh, SSP Shopian, told Kashmir Observer, “we’re interrogating all possible persons who may have any knowledge about Shakir Manzoor. We’re doing whatever is possible to crack this case.”

Protest against his disappearance.

Back home, Wagay recalled his son’s army stint over incessant smoking drags.

After joining army in 2016, Shakir was posted in Bandipora and Srinagar, before transferred to his home district.

On the fateful day, Wagay had warned him not to visit home frequently, as he had apprehensions that he might be killed.

“But he was fearless,” the father said. “He would say he is good to everyone, so there is no need to worry.”

The mystery continues.

Apart from mobilizing shovels and JCBs to hunt his son’s grave, Wagay has already made multiple rounds of Srinagar, to demand probe in the unsolved case.

“One question repeatedly haunts me,” Wagay, demanding a CBI investigation into the case, said.

“My son, a member of Indian army, was abducted and killed and his department made little effort to locate his dead body. I would’ve myself located my son’s body, if army and police had supported the way they should.”

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