3 months and no exhumation: J&K father says ‘worry may not even be able to touch soil son is buried in’

Each day, Abdul Latief Magrey says, he feels the burden on his shoulders get heavier. It’s been nine months now since his son Amir was killed in the Hyderpora, Srinagar, encounter along with three others. A legal battle he has been fighting to get the body exhumed shows no sign of ending.

With the matter now in the Supreme Court, Magrey says: “The more time it takes, the more I worry that I may not even be able to touch the soil he is buried in.”

Four people were killed in the encounter in Hyderpora in November 2021, and as per the new policy in the J&K regarding alleged militants, their bodies quickly buried in unmarked graves. After family members of three of them (the fourth was said to be a Pakistani militant) contested police claims, the bodies of Altaf Bhat, a businessman, and Dr Mudassir Gul, a dentist, were exhumed and returned to their families for burial.

The body of Amir, who belonged to the Jammu province, however, remained at Handwara. Police maintain that unlike Bhat and Gul, Amir is an established militant; Magrey, a government bravery award winner for fighting militants, contests this. In an internal probe, police have cleared itself of any wrongdoing in the encounter.

On May 27 this year, the Jammu and Kashmir High Court granted Magrey’s plea, directing the administration to exhume Amir’s body, and calling the denial of last rites to his family violative of Article 14 of the Constitution.

Since then, the administration has repeatedly sought blocking of the exhumation order, citing putrefaction of the body, then arguing that granting the same for a “terrorist” would lead to law-and-order problems.

On August 29, the apex court reserved its order on a plea to exhume Amir’s body.

Expressing despair at the stalemate on Amir’s body, Magrey says: “Nothing is moving forward. When the court ruled in our favour, we were satisfied.” But then came the stay, and repeated hearings since. “All we wanted was to go to his grave and see for ourselves. If the body would be okay, we thought, we would bring him home. If it wasn’t, we would be satisfied just having seen his face.”

Magrey stays at Gool in Ramban with his wife and four children, two of whom are married. They have set aside a place for Amir in the village graveyard, in wait for his body.

Magrey says that the family is fighting battles at two fronts. “One, in the court, and another against the tag of terrorist that has been given to him. He was a civilian and we should be able to give him a burial just like the others who were killed that day.”

He hasn’t lost hope in justice yet, he adds. “We secured justice once, we hope we can get some relief again.”

The 58-year-old says he doesn’t want anything else from the government. He has “no quarrel” with them. “Just let me see his face, I want nothing more.”

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