On Thursday night, there was an uneasy calm at a graveyard in the outskirts of Budgam district in central Kashmir. A young boy, drenched in sweat, shovelled the earth to dig a grave for his kin, Dr Mudasir Gul, killed in an alleged gunfight in Srinagar on Monday.
Shivering, a handful of people watching in silence with flashes of their mobile phones on. The men know it’s going to be a long night. And it’s not unusual.
On Monday evening, Jammu and Kashmir police informed that forces killed two militants in a gunfight. Hours later, police added that the owner of the building, Mohammad Altaf Bhat, a businessman died in the exchange of gunfire. Bhat, police claimed, was a “militant associate” which the family vehemently refuted.
12 kilometres away in Kanipora, a village situated on the outskirts of central Kashmir’s Budgam district, news of Altaf’s killing made Dr Mudasir Gul’s family anxious. Gul — a dental surgeon turned real estates entrepreneur — has taken a shop on rent in the same [Altaf’s] complex where the alleged gunfight took place.
The restless family, unable to reach him in his phone, drove to the Police Control Room in Srinagar where police had taken the bodies of the slain.
But, the family was sent back without “any clue of his [Gul’s] whereabouts”.
On the next morning, Gul’s family drove to a nearby police post to file a missing report. At the station, they were informed that their kin has been killed.
Ghulam Mohammad Rather, Gul’s father said, “when the police officer wrote Dr Mudasir’s name in the missing report, he stood up in shock”.
“The cop met his officer in charge, who after having conversations with his seniors, confirmed that Gul has been killed in the alleged encounter”.
On the same day, the police in a new statement claimed that four persons were killed in the “gunfight,” including two militants — one Pakistani national called Haider and Amir Magray, a resident of Ramban.
However, the statement accused Gul of being a top militant associate. Gul and Bhat were killed in crossfire during the operation, the police claimed.
“Staged encounter, murder”
Families however outrightly rejected the police claims saying their kin were militants or militant associates by any means.
“It was a staged encounter. A murder,” alleges Rather.
“Gul was not a militant, neither an affiliate. He was innocent. He was a lively man working like anybody else. He was working to feed his family as others do…He has no affiliation or inclination towards this kind of scenario he has been labelled to,” Gul’s immediate relative wishing anonymity, told Maktoob.
“There are no grounds to accuse him of being a militant sympathizer. Even we are asking if the alleged encounter started at 6 in the evening and ended around 10 pm. Where was his [Gul’s] body for long 11 hours?” he questioned.
“This is not like something you would befool us by denying facts,” Rather said adding Gul was not like a bag of vegetable that your eyes would not have caught his attention. “He was a tall smart man with grace and dignity”.
Raising questions about the circumstances that led to the death of Gul, they said, an autopsy must be done to know the time and cause of his [Gul’s] death.
“These facts must be included in the investigation. If police late night told only 3 were killed, where was his body kept for the whole night. How was he killed”?
“The trauma will go with the family lifelong. His children are orphans for lifelong. His wife is a widow for whole life. His parents lost their support for lifetime. They will never get him back,” added Bashir Ahmad Rather, uncle of Gul.
He added that this is an “irrevocable loss” that can never be compensated.
“We can only pacify the pain of Gul’s family that too for time being,” he said adding we ask govt if you can’t do justice at least secure future of his kids.
Ruined Dreams, silent burial
According to family, Gul had dreams of making his daughter a doctor to serve the common masses.
“He had big dreams for his children. What would happen to those dreams? People need to ask the government of India,” Rather told Maktoob.
The family members are “devasted” by his death and have been literally brought on the road to “beg for the livelihood”.
“I am sure time will surface the facts and we will be proven right that he [Gul] was an innocent and we demand that his family should be suitably compensated so that their livelihood is not affected the future of his [Gul’s] kids is secure,” Rather added.
The mortal remains of Gul and Altaf were exhumed and handed to their families in dead of night. A close relative of Gul said they got confirmation about the exhumation at around 7 pm on Thursday,
“We were told not to share information on social media or any other place. We were also told to restrict the gathering at the funeral to avoid the “further dissemination” of news”.
We buried him in dead of night
“Only family members and immediate relatives participated in the funeral amid mournful eyes,” he said. The family members of both Altaf and Gul have been claiming that they were innocent and the security forces used them as “human shields”, a violation of Geneva Conventions to which India is a signatory.
The two families had staged a peaceful sit-in at Srinagar’s Press Enclave on Wednesday to demand the mortal remains of their loved ones.
However, the electricity supply to the area was allegedly cut before a police party bundled them forcibly to foil the protests, evoking widespread outrage.
“What have we done. We are asking for bodies,” Saima Bhat, niece of Altaf was seen saying cops before she was bundled into a police vehicle and whisked away to the police station. They were released later.
Meanwhile, the governor has ordered a high-level probe to investigate the circumstances of the killings on an immediate basis.