Dozens of relatives of two civilians killed in a controversial gunfight in Indian-occupied Kashmir (IOK) staged a protest in the disputed region’s main city on Wednesday, pleading with authorities to return the bodies so they could bury them.
Four people, including two civilians and two alleged freedom fighters, died on Monday night in the raid by government forces in Srinagar, police said.
Police said the civilians died in the crossfire between government troops and the alleged freedom fighters. However, witnesses and families of the civilians said Indian troops used them as human shields during the standoff.
Indian authorities later secretly buried the bodies in a remote northwestern village as part of a policy that started in 2020. Since then, authorities have buried the bodies of hundreds of alleged freedom fighters and their alleged associates, including civilians, in unmarked graves in remote areas, denying their families proper funerals.
The family members of the two civilians, identified as trader Mohammad Altaf Bhat and Mudassir Ahmed, a dental surgeon and real estate dealer, assembled in an area of Srinagar where several media offices are located and demanded the return of the bodies.
On Wednesday, a video of Bhat's daughter was shared widely on social media, in which the young girl recounted the moment the family found out about his death.
They raised slogans and some of them carried leaflets that read “Stop innocent killings & atrocities” and “We want justice.”
Saima Bhat, a relative of trader Bhat, said they had little hope of any justice.
“Justice is a long journey. We just plead right now that the bodies of our loved ones be returned,” she said.
“At least respect the dead and allow us to give them a dignified burial.”
Authorities say the policy of not returning freedom fighters’ bodies to their families is aimed at stopping the spread of the coronavirus and avoiding potential law and order problems during funerals.
The policy has added to widespread anti-India anger in the region and some rights groups have fiercely criticised the move, calling it a grave violation of religious rights.
India and Pakistan claim the divided territory in its entirety. Freedom fighters in the Indian-administered portion of Kashmir have been fighting New Delhi’s rule since 1989.
Tens of thousands of civilians have been killed in the conflict.