By Thursday evening, a crowd started gathering at Altaf Ahmed Bhat’s house in Barzulla area of Srinagar. With no official word on when Bhat’s body would be returned to the family, a tacit understanding remained that it would be a long night.
Bhat was among four people who were killed in an encounter at Hyderpora in Srinagar on the night of November 15 and were swiftly buried by the police in Handwara, 70 km away. Three of them had family members (one was reportedly Pakistani), including two civilians – Bhat, the owner of the building where the firing took place, and
Mudassir Gul, a dentist – had contested the police’s claims that they were either terrorists or had extremist links. With an uproar over the rising killings, the Jammu and Kashmir administration on Thursday retrieved the bodies of Bhat and Gul and handed them over to the families. In response to the Hurriyat Conference’s call against these killings, a bandh was organized in Kashmir on Friday.
After 9.30 pm on Thursday, the family members, including Bhat’s 62-year-old brother Abdul Majeed Bhat, approached the growing crowd around the house and urged them to disperse. “We are grateful to all of you but we have been told that if there are outsiders here then we cannot be given the body. We have fought hard and we want his kids to get a chance to see him one last time. At around 11.30 pm, police vehicles gathered around the house and the family opened the doors in the hope that they would be allowed to go in a chariot. “They are saying that they will not hand over the body in the presence of the media,” a family member announced. The gates were closed again.
An hour later, the gate finally opened and as the coffin carrying Bhat’s body was lowered to the ground, rooms inside the house erupted in screams. Bhat’s 13-year-old daughter Naifa cried, “Papa, why did they take you away from me?”
By 1 p.m., a crowd of more than 150 family members and neighbors carried the coffin to the local cemetery, which is a five-minute walk from the house. About 8 km away, the body of Gul, a dentist who was killed in the encounter, was buried at Nowgam.
With protests over the police version of the encounter, there has been a growing demand for the exhumation of the body of Amir Marge, whom the man called an ‘overground worker’.
Marge’s father, Abdul Latif Magrey, said his son worked as an assistant in the building where the shooting took place and had “no links to terrorism”.
Former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir Mehbooba Mufti Said, “Amir Magrey, who was killed in the Hyderpora encounter, is yet to be given a decent funeral by his bereaved family.
The fact that these families are begging for his mortal remains instead of seeking justice, shows their lack of faith in the system.” National Conference vice-president Omar Abdullah, sitting on a dharna in Srinagar, demanded the return of Aamir’s body to his family. CPI(M) leader MY Tarigami called for action against “those involved in the killing of unarmed civilians”.