With #ReturnTheBodies, Kashmiris use snow to demand accountability

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Srinagar: As snow continues to accumulate in the valley, Kashmiris have found a unique way to demand the return of the bodies of the trio killed in an alleged gunfight in Srinagar’s Lawaypora area on 30 December 2020.

While the government forces claimed that the three killed had militant links, the family members have firmly countered their claims claiming that their kin is innocent civilians.

The government forces have recently begun to refuse to identify and handing over bodies of those it kills in gunfights. Under the new policy, those killed in gunfights are discreetly buried in designated graveyards in central and north Kashmir, statedly in presence of their first blood and a magistrate.

The south Kashmir families have been protesting ever since the “gunfight” culminated. The cries and shrieks of the relatives of those killed have drawn public ire and sympathy with thousands taking their anger out on social media.

The Valleyites have inscribed “return the bodies” on walls of their localities, car’s windshield, roads, and windows with snow and uploaded them on their social media handles. Soon, “#ReturnTheBodies was trending on Twitter in Kashmir on Monday, with over thirty-two thousand tweeting about the same.

On Monday, the family members of two of the three youth killed in a “gunfight” in the Lawaypora area last week staged a protest in Srinagar’s Press Enclave demanding justice and bodies of the slain who have been buried in central Kashmir’s Sonamarg.

Carrying placards and shouting slogans, the wailing family members comprising of both elderly men and women who had made their way to Srinagar from south Kashmir braving chilly weather said that they wanted the bodies of their kin. “Just give me the body of my child.  I want justice, not money, I want the body of my son. Whom should I ask, don’t these people of India listen?” Mushtaq Wani, the father of the 16-year-old, Ather Wani can be heard saying in a video that is viral on social media.

In the video, he further says, “I want to tell the people of every country that I want justice, I want my son. He is just a 16-year-old kid. I have died already. Either give me my son or bury me there only. Give me my son! When will these forces be happy? Are they happy now after killing a piece of my heart? They have kept their money and medal for their children. They are feeding their children by killing mine. It’s a shame!”

Earlier, after the government forces denied the bodies of the three persons killed in an alleged gunfight on Srinagar’s outskirts, Wani dug a grave in his native village of Bellow, in south Kashmir’s Pulwama and demanded the body of his slain son, failing which he had warned of committing suicide, “Who do [troopers] kill for their stars? These small children. I congratulate the whole of India and the media who show that they have done an encounter. This was a fake encounter.”

Demanding the body of his son, he had said: “I will wait till I’m alive. Tomorrow, I’m going to Srinagar and if they don’t return me the body, I’ll commit suicide.”

On the day gunfight concluded, the Army’s General Officer Commanding (GoC) of Kilo Force, H. S. Sahi, said: “With the first light the firefight again resumed and militants used heavy ammunition against security forces.” Sahi claimed that the “three militants killed in the gunfight at Lawaypora on Srinagar outskirts were planning a big strike”.  However, after the photographs of the bodies went viral on social media, three families from south Kashmir claimed the killed trio and vouched for their innocence.

The trio was identified as Ather Wani from Bellow, Pulwama, Aijaz Ganaie from Putrigam, Pulwama, and Zubair Lone from Turkwangam, Shopian.

This is not the first time that snow in Kashmir has been used as a means to convey messages by Kashmiris; earlier people have posted pictures of snowmen with blood smeared on their bodies, while some posted pictures of “Azadi” inscribed on the snow as others used the snow to take digs at the politicians.

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