For Muhammad Lateef Magray, the grief over the death of his son has turned to extreme disappointment and anger.
Magray resides under a security cover in a tribal village in the Ramban district of Jammu and Kashmir, situated at a distance of some 150 kilometres away from the Srinagar city for the last one and a half-decade.
His son Amir, 23, was killed by government forces on November 15 in an alleged gunfight that broke out in the evening hours in Hyderpora Srinagar.
Four persons were killed in the encounter, police have claimed. A foreign militant called Hyder, a local Militant – Amir Ahmad Magray, a militant associate – Dr Mudasir Gul and Altaf Ahmad Bhat. But the families of the trio; Amir, Gul and Altaf have rejected the police claims that their kin’s were militant or have any links by any means.
Along with the two Srinagar families, the father of Amir says his son’s killing was a “conspiracy”. “A cold-blooded fake encounter”.
Extrajudicial killings are not new for the valley.
Six days have elapsed after Magray’s son was killed, but he is reluctant to talk despite his relatives urging him to do so.
“What good will it do to talk about the carnage that has befallen on me?” he asks. “I only want justice. I only want the body of my son. Whatever happens after that, I don’t care.”
“He is your son. He is your blood. Only you can describe the pain which his longings have inflicted. If you will shut your mouth, who will speak up”? a relative said, encouraging him to speak.
“Today it was your son, but tomorrow, it could be mine. We are with you,” he continued.
In December 2020, Amir left for Srinagar to find a livelihood. “We are poor and have not sufficient resources to feed the belly,” he said.
Amir had completed religious studies from Hyderpora, Bandipora and Deoband respectively before moving to Srinagar in search of a job after the pandemic, Magray told Maktoob.
After searching for days together he [Amir] couldn’t find one. “It was then Dr Mudasir Gul who employed him at his office after he came in contact with him,” said Magray. “Everything was going fine. We would speak over the phone every evening almost. Crack jokes and share daily happenings,” he said joined by his wife, Mebeena Begum.
“I remember he called me a day before, enquired when he [Amir] will return home. He replied I will return soon after my agreement of one year with Gul will come to an end around Eid and hung up the phone,” Mubeena, Amir’s mother told Maktoob.
On the evening of November 15, Amir’s phone was switched off. The next morning, Muhammad Magray learnt about the death of his son. “I was on my way to Ramban when I got a call from the local police station. They told me whether I am a father of Amir, after confirmation, I was told that he [Amir] has been killed in a gunfight in Srinagar,” Magray told Maktoob.
In the meantime, Magray took along some persons from the locality and moved to Srinagar to identify his son, however, he could not have the last glimpse of his son despite travelling miles “I went to Saddar police station to know the whereabouts of the dead body of my son, but they [police] told me he was a militant and has been buried at a distance of 150 from Srinagar,” he laments.
“I wonder, how do they label him as a militant. He was the son of a brave Indian. I have fought for the nation and now I am being paid for this, by killing my innocent son. What sort of reward is this”? He asked.
Magray alleged that he was not even called to participate in the funeral of his son.
‘Magray – a gold medalist’
In 2005, Muhammad Magray had killed a militant with stones during an encounter and was rewarded for it by the then government. But killing militants has not been a cakewalk for his family.
“We had to migrate for years due to fear of militants,” said Magray adding in 2011 we returned to our ancestral home in Ramban “but my house has been under security since then”.
“How can they even think of calling my son a militant?”
“If my son would have been wrong, I would not have sent him to Srinagar in search of a job for the first place and would not have hesitated to hand over him to police. I have killed a militant with a stone, how can my son be a militant”?
Soon after the alleged gunfight was over, police had buried all the four persons away from home under a policy started in April 2020, authorities have buried more than 100 alleged rebels in unmarked graves, denying their families proper funerals and adding to widespread anti-India anger in the region.
However, the burial of Altaf and Gul had evoked massive resistance from their families. They had staged a sit-in protest in Srinagar’s Press Enclave, demanding the bodies of their relatives.
The protest came to an end when the police whisked away from the grieving families and detained them for a few hours after being released forcing the authorities to reconsider some decisions.
On 18 November, the authorities exhumed the bodies of Bhat and Gul from the graveyard in Handwara and handed them over for a second burial in Srinagar. However, Amir’s body was not returned to his family members.
“This is pathetic and indifference on part of authorities, if the families in Srinagar were returned their bodies, why can’t we get the body of our kin back”? Magray questions alleging govt of indifference.
Magray has also asked for the body of his son to be exhumed and returned to him.
“I am demanding the body of my son who was killed in a fake encounter. It is a peaceful appeal to ask for my son’s body,” he said in an appeal to the governor.
“I want to see my son once after 11 months. I want to bury him according to our religion. I want to bury him near my home,” he added.