‘We beg for bodies’: Hidden graves of slain Kashmiri rebels | Human Rights News
Three weeks after putting down his tools and picking up his weapon, Kashmiri carpenter Mukhtar Ahmed was killed in a shootout with Indian forces, who buried his remains in an unmarked grave. a few hours away from his family home.
Mukhtar was among hundreds of rebels killed in combat and Hastily intervened by the police in the remote parts of Indian-administered Kashmir, the picturesque Himalayas, the site of a lasting uprising.
Officials have justified the policy by saying it is aimed at deterring “charming terrorists” from the violent anti-India protests that often accompany public funerals of the rebels. woke up dead.
But these “martyrs’ cemeteries”, as the locals call them, have hurt families about murdered youths and outraged Kashmiris under a broader crackdown on dissidents.
Police took Mukhtar’s body to a housing complex in the region’s main city of Srinagar after fatally shooting the 25-year-old in October. It has been given to his family there for identification.
Brother-in-law Bilal Ahmed said: “We begged for the body to be handed over to us.
“But they refused, loaded it up in an armored vehicle and drove off without telling us where they were going to bury it.”
Bilal and other relatives followed the vehicle until it stopped in the small village of Waddur, witnessing a rushed funeral just before sunset with nothing to mark the place.
A modest slate headstone now rests on Mukhtar’s remains, erected by relatives and decorated with artificial flowers.
The remote forested area, one of at least five sites used to bury rebels far from population centers, has become a place of pilgrimage for loved ones of the dead fighters.
Some travelers make video calls from their phones to loved ones who can’t afford trips there or are too worried about military checkpoints along the way.
Mukhtar’s family is considering whether to uproot and resettle in the mountains near his resting place.
His father, Nazir Koka, said: “I could hardly spend two weeks at home without visiting. “Please or borrow, I have to travel often.”
Kashmir has been disputed between India and Pakistan since both countries gained independence 75 years ago. Both sides claim the entire territory.
India has accused Pakistan of training and supporting Kashmiri rebels, which Islamabad denies.
The area controlled by India for decades has been the site of an armed uprising for independence or the annexation of Himalayan territory with Pakistan.
Tens of thousands of Kashmiri civilians, soldiers and rebels have been killed in the conflict.
by Prime Minister Narendra Modi the government has restrained on dissent since the snap decision in 2019 to rescind the limited autonomy of the territory under India’s constitution.
Authorities make strict decisions restriction of media freedom and public demonstrations to quell dissent.
The death toll has dropped since then, but young men have continued to join the uprising.
Mukhtar was one of at least 580 suspected rebels killed in confrontations with Indian forces and their bodies were subsequently not delivered to the family for a proper funeral as of April 2020. , official records show.
The practice began at a time when government protocols banned mass gatherings at burial sites to avoid the spread of coronavirus infections but continued even after other pandemic-driven restrictions. end.
Huge crowds that held funerals for rebels before the ban and chanted slogans for Kashmir’s independence, sometimes clashed with security forces and caused deaths and injuries on both sides.
Officials say separatist fighters have used those gatherings to recruit more men into their ranks and incite anti-Indian sentiment.
“We are not only stopping the spread of COVID but also stop glorifying terrorists and avoid possible law and order problems,” Kashmir police chief Vijay Kumar said of the policy in a statement. a 2020 interview with The Hindu newspaper.
Kanchan Gupta of the Indian Ministry of Information said that implementing policies to maintain law and order is a matter for local authorities and security forces in Kashmir.
‘Pray quickly and leave’
Legal experts say the ban on funeral gatherings is in effect illegal.
“It was a response that was disproportionate to the state’s concerns and flavored with collective punishment,” a lawyer in Srinagar said on condition of anonymity, fearing government retaliation.
Security forces have exhumed at least five bodies from remote graves and returned them to their families after investigations revealed they were not rebels.
The bodies of three workers were moved and reburied after family protests prompted the military to admit that the men killed in a gunfight in July 2020 were not “terrorists”. dad” returned fire in a gunfight.
Authorities have sought to prevent memorials for the dead at some grave sites.
Some families have marked the resting place of their loved ones only to return to find that the tombstone has been removed. Others were asked not to linger at the graves.
Ghulam Nabi Lone regularly travels 150 kilometers (90 miles) to visit the forest where his son was buried by security forces after being killed in a shooting last year.
Lone said: ‘The police didn’t allow us enough time with my baby’s grave when we tried to get there. “They ordered us to ‘just pray quickly and leave’.”