The families of two militants, who were killed in a gunfight with the government forces in Shopian, south Kashmir, on Friday, will be traveling tomorrow to apply for permission to exhume their bodies from a graveyard in Baramulla, north Kashmir.

Since Friday, the families have been protesting after the bodies were taken away from the gunfight site and buried in Baramulla; now, the Shopian district administration has approved their demand of travelling to Baramulla and issued the travel pass for the on-going lockdown. 

However, no formal application by the family or decision by the government has been taken whether the bodies will be given or not. Speaking to The Kashmir Walla, Deputy Commissioner of Baramulla, G. N. Itoo, said that he has not received any formal application on exhumation of the bodies.

“No one from the families has approached me. I’ve been hearing from the media only. When anyone will approach, the formal procedure — including taking the report from the police — and then we will see what is the procedure laid down for that,” said Mr. Itoo.

He also added that from the media reports he is aware about the family requesting the bodies and once he gets any formal request, the administration “will follow the procedure accordingly.”

The journey of bringing back bodies starts

Last Friday, following specific inputs, a joint team of Jammu and Kashmir Police, Army’s 44-RR, and CRPF, launched a cordon and search operation in Dairoo-Keegam village of Shopian, south Kashmir. After the gunfight ended, two militants were killed and buried about 110 kilometers away from Shopian, in Gantmulla graveyard in Baramulla, where most non-local militants are buried.

But after two families from Shopian claimed both the militants are locals and their kin, the police denied permission to identify. Two militants are, as per families’ claims, Asif Ahmad Dar and Raheel Hamid, both residents of Shopian. 

We don’t know yet if the bodies will be given tomorrow or not but we have been asked to reach there. So, we will go.”

After the gunfight, the bodies were quickly taken away from the site — a norm when non-local militants are killed. But in Shopian, the word was out about the killing of local militants. Locals say that it was done to stop any mass gathering of people at the funeral, like recently in Sopore, where over a thousand people attended the funeral of a local militant — defying the COVID-19 lockdown. 

However, both the families have now been granted permission to travel to Baramulla and request permission for exhumation, where the officials are likely to take their DNA samples. 

Mudasir Dar, an uncle of one of the militants, told The Kashmir Walla that the family has been issued curfew passes and told to write an application to the District Magistrate, Baramulla. “We have also been told that after the DNA testing, the bodies will be handed over to us if samples match,” Dar said.

So far neither police nor the district administration has confirmed whether the bodies of the two militants will be exhumed on Monday and handed over to the families. 

“We were called and given a pass to travel to Baramulla,” Ghulam Nabi Magray, uncle of another militant, told The Kashmir Walla. “We don’t know yet if the bodies will be given tomorrow or not but we have been asked to reach there. So, we will go. Some officials told us it can take time also to get the bodies but we want to be done soon. Tomorrow, we will go.”

After the police had denied the families to perform the last rites, women protestors had cut off electricity supply near Ganavpora and many youths had taken to the streets despite the lockdown. On Sunday, police had registered two FIRs against the people for breaking the lockdown.

The Senior Superintendent of Police (Baramulla), Abdul Quyoom told The Kashmir Walla that the administration of Shopian district has given curfew passes only. “People know what they have to do next,” said Mr. Quyoom, and hung up the call.  

DNA matching process long – another tragic ordeal for families

In Kashmir, it is not the first time that the bodies of militants have been buried somewhere else and families have to demand for exhumation. In the past too, local militants have been buried in other areas, and only after continuous demands by the families bodies were returned. In 2019, the body of the militant from Bandipora, north Kashmir — Rameez Ahmad Mir, was returned after two months when the DNA was matched.

Similarly, in September 2018, families of five militants, who were killed in a gunfight at Sumlar area of north Kashmir’s Bandipora district, demanded the bodies. All five were buried at Sheeri, Baramulla, and were identified as locals by their affiliated militant group — Hizbul Mujahideen. 

The demand was followed by the DNA samples being collected but even a month later family members were protesting alleging that despite taking DNA samples, authorities didn’t give the bodies.

“The DNA samples of these people have been taken and it will take time because there is a lockdown going on.”

Khurram Parvez, human rights activist based in Kashmir, says that this is not the first time families have been deprived of the dead bodies of the deceased. “Some police officers think of themselves above law and persecute even the families of militants. We have documented in the past how family members of militants were arrested, tortured and humiliated. Perhaps they do this thinking they are demoralizing militants and their sympathisers,” he said, pointing out to the reports released by his team.

In another recent gunfight that ended on 5 April in Keeran sector of Kupwara district, North Kashmir, five militants were killed and buried in a forest area of Zurhama in the Shalbatoo-Jumgund range.After the news of the killings, three families from south Kashmir’s Shopian and Kulgam claimed that the killed militants were their kin. Police collected their DNA samples less than two weeks ago but the process hasn’t completed yet. 

Confirming this, the Senior Superintendent of Police (Kupwara), Shriram Ambarkar, told The Kashmir Walla, that none of the five bodies have been exhumed yet. “The procedure will take some time. I can’t comment on how long it will take,” he said. “The DNA samples of these people have been taken and it will take time because there is a lockdown going on.”

The bodies from Kupwara are yet to be returned to families, leaving them in long wait. And, for the Shopian families, the same starts from tomorrow. 

Cover Photograph by Bhat Burhan from the archives.

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