The bodies of Altaf Ahmad Bhat and Mudasir Gul were buried over 70km away in Handwara without the presence of their families after police claimed they were killed in crossfire during a gun battle in Srinagar’s Hyderpora.
The Jammu and Kashmir administration late on Thursday exhumed the bodies of the two civilians killed in Monday’s gunfight in Srinagar and was set to hand them over to their families amid protests in the Valley, the Srinagar mayor said.
Businessmen Altaf Ahmad Bhat and Mudasir Gul were killed along with two terrorists in the encounter in the Hyderpora area of Srinagar. Police maintained that the two men were “overground workers” of terror outfits and were killed in the crossfire but their families said that the two were used as human shields and called the killings “cold-blood murders”. Police buried Bhat and Gul in Handwara, around 70km from Hyderpora, without their families being present, citing “law and order concerns”. Earlier in the day, the J&K administration also ordered a magisterial probe into the encounter.
The families of the two civilians staged a sit-in at the Press Enclave in Srinagar on Wednesday and held a candlelight vigil after the day-long protest, demanding that the bodies of the two men be handed to them. They were forcibly removed from the site by police around midnight and a few of them were detained briefly.
“Have been informed that the bodies of Altaf Ahmed and Mudasir Gul have been exhumed at Handwara for last rites and burial by families. This is the first step towards ensuring justice is done in this case,” Srinagar mayor Junaid Mattu tweeted.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a relative of Gul said: “We met the officials regarding the return of the body and they sought some assurances from us, which we readily gave. We believe the bodies will reach us.”
National Conference leader and former chief minister Omar Abdullah on Thursday staged a sit-in demanding the return of bodies of the two men.
“We are sitting here peacefully. If we wanted, we would have blocked roads, bridges, but no. There has been no sloganeering, no law and order disturbance and no road has been blocked. We are not raising a voice against the government, we just demand that the bodies be returned,” he said.
Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) chief and former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti accused the Centre of being “inhuman” and said she was put under house arrest again.
“Again under house arrest and PDP’s Najmu Saqib and Suhail Bukhari too have been arrested. The pattern of using innocent civilians as human shields and then denying their families the right to a decent burial shows that GOI has plumbed new depths of inhumanity,” she said in a tweet.
Earlier in the day, J&K lieutenant governor Manoj Sinha’s office said an additional district magistrate will probe the Hyderpora encounter while promising suitable action as soon as a report is submitted. It added the administration is committed to protecting the lives of civilians and will ensure there is no injustice.
“A magisterial inquiry by an officer of ADM rank has been ordered in Hyderpora encounter. Govt will take suitable action as soon as the report is submitted in a time-bound manner. JK admin reiterates the commitment of protecting lives of innocent civilians &it will ensure there is no injustice,” Sinha’s office tweeted.
Welcoming the administration’s move, Bhat’s brother Abdul Majeed said the family also wanted that the killers of his sibling be brought to justice.
“I am thankful to the L-G for ordering an inquiry. I am thankful that my oppressed voice was heard by someone. I only have one request to the L-G, I want the body of my brother returned to us and the killers of my innocent brother brought to justice,” Majeed said.
A relative of Gul, who did not wish to be named, said that they appreciate the LG administration’s decision, but want the case to reach its logical conclusion.
“The call of inquiry is a momentary relief and we appreciate it but we will wait for its outcome. We are simply asking for justice because we know our son was innocent. We also seek the body of our son back and we hope that the demand will also be granted,” he said.
J&K DGP Dilbag Singh said the “police is open to correction if anything has gone wrong”. “We will look into the demands of the families. We are open to corrections if anything has gone wrong. A police probe will also find out what went wrong. We will find out what happened in the Hyderpora encounter. We are for the safety of people and will not shy away from a probe,” Singh was quoted as saying by news agency CNS.
BJP spokesperson for the J&K unit, Altaf Thakur, welcomed the order, saying: “We welcome the magisterial inquiry into the incident. If families had any doubt those doubts should be cleared and an inquiry is welcome in that direction. Civilian killings won’t be tolerated at any cost. If any wrong has happened, the culprits should be brought to book. Since the inquiry has been ordered and the incident has become doubtful, the administration should hand over the bodies of the civilians to their families when they are innocent.”