Police in Indian-administered Kashmir said Monday they will not hand over the bodies of three youths killed last month to their families because their funerals could trigger protests.
Police claimed on Dec. 30 last year that three associates of militants — Ajaz Maqbool Ganie, Ather Mushtaq and Zubair Ahmad Lone, who hail from different places in southern Kashmir — were killed in a gunfight the previous night on the outskirts of the capital, Srinagar.
The families of the three, however, demonstrated outside the police control room the next day and told the media that the three had left their homes on Dec. 29 to submit admission forms for classes.
Police initially issued a statement saying the trio did not figure in their records of militants but later said they were helping militants with logistics. Many pro-India political parties had called for an impartial investigation into the killings.
The families were demanding the bodies of the deceased so they could be buried in their native graveyards. Mushtaq Ahmad, the father of 16-year-old Ather Mushtaq, even dug a grave in his village and asked “India to return my son’s body to me.”
But since March last year, the police have stopped handing over bodies of militants or their alleged associates to their kin, saying militants’ funerals attracted large crowds that instantly morphed into pro-freedom rallies.
The police now bury militants in a few remote hamlets, often during evenings in the presence of their parents and a couple of other relatives.
Kashmir Police Chief Vijay Kumar reiterated that militants’ bodies would not be handed over to their families. He was replying to a reporter who asked him whether the police would heed Ather’s father’s appeal.
“Handing over the body of a militant or militant associate is always fraught with the risk of massive protests. People become emotional. They come to their funerals in the thousands,” Kumar said.
“If we hand over the bodies, thousands will turn up and the situation could get out of hand, and to control them, the police would have to fire tear gas or metal pellets. If we use force, you [journalists] would criticize us then also. So there is no question of handing over their bodies,” said Kumar.
Mushtaq said he would bury his son in “the dead of night in the presence of the same people who killed him.”
“Ather’s only sibling — his sister — and his grandparents want to see his body. I assure the police that if they fear public protests or COVID-19, there would be no congregation. Only his family would be present at the burial,” he said.
Kashmir, a Muslim-majority Himalayan region, is held by India and Pakistan in parts and claimed by both in full. A small sliver of Kashmir is also held by China.
Since they were partitioned in 1947, New Delhi and Islamabad have fought three wars – in 1948, 1965 and 1971 – two of them over Kashmir.
Also, in the Siachen Glacier region of northern Kashmir, Indian and Pakistani troops have fought intermittently since 1984. A cease-fire took effect in 2003.
Some Kashmiri groups in Jammu and Kashmir have been fighting against Indian rule for independence or for unification with neighboring Pakistan.
According to several human rights organizations, thousands have reportedly been killed in the conflict since 1989.