“No parent should have to bury a child,” — a nightmare for many, but a reality for some.
Even though we aren’t living in the best of times, I’d like to think people aren’t as cruel as to wish this upon someone. We might have our differences, but on a humane level, I think most understand and empathise with the pain of having to bury a loved one, let alone a parent burying their child.
Unfortunately, in Kashmir (and other such regions), a parent burying their child is not an uncommon sight. No matter which generation you speak with, peace has always eluded us. We associate conflict with normal — content with what we’re given as opposed to what our rights are.
But cruelty seems to have no bounds and misery tries to best itself in Kashmir. While having to bury your child might seem cruel enough, Kashmir’s reality proceeds further into oblivion — a father digging an empty grave, pleading the body be returned.
Ather Mushtaq Wani’s father last saw him alive on the afternoon of 29 December. The 16-year-old class 11 student was later found among the three killed in the Lawaypora encounter that started in the night of 29 December and concluded in the morning of 30 December, 2020. On his way home from work, Ather’s father got a call from the local police station asking about his son. As he reached home, the crowd gathered outside his home informed him of his son’s death.
The other two killed were 20-year-old Aijaz Maqbool Ganaie, son of a Jammu and Kashmir police constable, and 23-year-old Zubair Ahmad Lone, whose two brothers are in the Jammu and Kashmir Police.
The families went to the Police Control Room (PCR) in Srinagar to see their kin for the last time. They staged a protest outside the PCR, alleging the three were killed in a staged/fake encounter. There is a long documented history of extrajudicial tortures and killings in Kashmir since the 90s, with family members still awaiting an answer from the government about those who’ve “disappeared“.
While these allegations may seem far-fetched to someone bereft or deluded of Kashmir’s reality, people who’ve lived beyond Jahangir’s quote (“Gar firdaus bar-rue zamin ast, hamin asto, hamin asto, hamin ast”) understand how complicated (or uncomplicated) it is.
And the recent Shopian murders (fake encounter) only highlight the extent of undue power security officials in the valley are afforded. According to reports, an Army Captain along with two civilian’s staged an encounter on 18 July, 2020, for reward money. Arms and ammunition were later planted on the bodies to pass them off as militants. The families of the three murdered — 25-year-old Abrar Ahmed, 20-year-old Imtiyaz Ahmed and 16-year-old Mohammed Ibrar — identified them after their pictures circulated on social media. The bodies were later exhumed after more than 2 months and handed over to the families.
As is “protocol“, bodies of those killed in encounters are buried far from home in unmarked graves. One such location is in Sonamarg, where Ather and the other two were buried, more than a 100 km away from their homes.
Mushtaq Ahmad Wani, Ather’s father, is one of the “lucky” one’s. Along with a few members of his family, he managed to reach the site where his son was about to be buried. In the dark of the night, he was forced to bury his son in a shallow, unmarked grave, a “privilege” many aren’t afforded.
Since then, the families of the three killed have staged several protests demanding the bodies be handed over to them. Right to human dignity puts an obligation on the State to have a decent burial of the deceased. Different resolutions adopted at international levels by the UN and International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent (ICRC) mandate the “return of remains”.
While security officials are kept on a pedestal in the rest of the country and any criticism against them is deemed baseless or their actions are justified, people who have faced unjustified brutality continue to suffer. The police brutality on show during the anti-CAA and farmers protests might help some realise that stories of such brutality by security officials in Kashmir aren’t overblown. Maybe that realisation can be the first step in recognising and understanding what Kashmiris have been going through.