Kashmir is no stranger to tragedy. But the insult and injury upon the people of Kashmir seem to have reached a tragic, demonic, level, even by Kashmiri standards.
The practice of handing over dead bodies of militants to the immediate family members of militants in Kashmir was established to counter allegations of ‘forced disappearances,’ by the Security Forces. Around 10,000 people remain unaccounted for (disappeared) in J&K since 1990. The total population of the region is 12 million.
Over the past 15 odd years, it was an established norm that dead bodies would be handed over to the immediate family to not only counter the allegations of disappearances but also to send a message. That these men who died were humans, after all, and in death, this respect is due to all humans. Also, the narrative that these men were ‘misguided,’ and after their death, they hold no threat to India’s security, and the argument that they died as Indians, and hence, should be given that regard. After all, India gave back the body of Yaqub Menon, hanged for the Bombay blasts of 1993. (That Afzal Guru’s and Maqbool Butt’s bodies remain buried in Tihar, is a discussion on another day)
The practice of handing over foreign militant bodies was amended in 2016, after a large funeral was held for Abu Qasim, a Pakistani national killed in an encounter with Indian security forces. Three villages fought over the rights to bury him within their areas. Over 30,000 people turned up, in winter, to see him for the last time. A few weeks earlier, the sitting Chief Minister’s funeral had a few close relatives in attendance and not many more. It was a blow to the Indian narrative.
However, the practice remained for handing over local militants’ bodies. Until this month. After recent encounter deaths, no bodies have been handed over to relatives in Kashmir, instead, the bodies have been labeled as ‘unidentified,’ despite the Indian agencies naming the killed men on various media. It is a brazen reach of arrogance, and the Indian Security Forces, probably citing the COVID-19 pandemic, have refused to hand over bodies to relatives now. Instead, the relatives have been asked to ‘submit DNA,’ for tests and then they may participate in last rites if they want. No bodies, no funeral, no respect for another human. Another low in Kashmir has been touched.
Another reason that has been cited is that funerals of local militants used to gather huge numbers of people, and these funerals were fertile recruitment zones for the militants. Often the militants in the vicinity would come and offer ‘gun salutes’ to their comrades, creating quite a spectacle, and videos would go viral.
That has now been prevented with this step.
Whether it really affects things on the ground will be seen in future. For now, Kashmiri families whose children have been sacrificed at the altar of the struggle for justice, can only mourn from a distance, the passing of their loved ones. They will not be given the chance to see their loved ones a last time.
Again, India shows Kashmir that it cares nothing for the people of Kashmir, only the strategic objective of holding on to the land in anyway possible.
Disclaimer: The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text belong solely to the author, and not necessarily to the editor of the Kashmir Discourse.
Syed Mohsin Ali is a student of International Relations in the University of Kashmir and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.