SRINAGAR: Dozens of relatives of two civilians killed in a gunfight in occupied Kashmir held 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 — two of them civilians and two suspected fighters — died on Monday night in a raid by Indian forces in Srinagar, police said.

Police claim the civilians died in the crossfire between government troops and the Kashmiri 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 began in 2020. Since then, authorities have buried the bodies of hundreds of suspected 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.

They shouted slogans and some carried signs reading “Stop innocent killings & atrocities” and “We want justice”.

Saima Bhat, a relative of Altaf Bhat, said they had little hope of 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.”

Meanwhile, Indian forces were deployed in half a dozen villages in the southern Gool area to enforce a ban on the assembly of more than four people, after family members of one of the men slain in Monday’s raid threatened to block a highway.

The man, 24-year-old Amir Magray, whom police described as a fighter, was a salesman at a shop in Srinagar, his father, Abdul Latief, said. Latief’s home has been protected by police guards since he killed a fighter with a stone in 2005.

“Denial of the body of my son is the reward of the fight against ‘terrorists’. My home is still guarded by police,” Latief was quoted by New Delhi Television as saying. “Tomorrow the security guards can kill me and claim that I was a militant.”

Authorities claim the policy of not returning fighters’ bodies to their families is aimed at stopping the spread of the coronavirus and to avoid potential law and order problems during funerals. The policy has added to widespread anti-India anger in the disputed region and some rights groups have fiercely criticised the move, calling it a violation of religious rights.

‘Fighters killed’

Five suspected fighters were killed in occupied Kashmir on Wednesday, police said.

Clashes with Indian forces in the disputed Himalayan region have claimed the lives of at least 140 fighters so far this year.

The five were killed during two separate search operations by government forces in Kulgam district, police said.

Published in Dawn, November 18th, 2021

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