Injustice in Occupied Kashmir: Empty Grave for Teenager Killed By Indian Forces

Injustice in occupied Kashmir continues as Indian officials and authorities announce new policies where they are abusing their powers and killing innocents.

In occupied Kashmir, Mushtaq Ahmed shoveled and shoveled deep into the mud, digging an empty grave for his 16-year old son, Athar Mushtaq, however, there was no body to be lowered inside the grave. “I want my son’s body,” he cried. “I ask India to return my son’s dead body to me.”

According to the police, the government forces brutally shot 16-year old Athar Mushtaq and two other young men when they refused to surrender at the outskirts of Srinagar, occupied Kashmir on Dec 30 last year. They described the men as “hardcore associates of terrorists” as opposed to Indian rule. However, the boys’ families insist that they were not terrorists and were murdered in cold blood.

“It was a fake encounter,” a grieving Ahmed said, as the crowd that gathered around him in the graveyard in southern Bellow village in occupied Kashmir shouted slogans demanding justice. The Indian authorities buried them at a remote graveyard 115 kilometers from their ancestral villages.

Under a policy started in 2020, Indian authorities have buried several individuals, all of whom authorities claim were ‘militants’, in unknown graves, denying their families proper funerals, leaving empty graves. The policy has added to widespread anti-India anger in the occupied Kashmir region.

India strongly relies on the army and military to retain control over occupied Kashmir and has fought numerous fights with Pakistan over the territory. These tensions and uprising have killed several thousands of civilians and freedom fighters.

In August 2019, India revoked occupied Kashmir’s semiautonomous status, announced curfews and communication blackouts, and arrested thousands, sparking outrage and economic ruin. Ever since then, they have also brought in multiple laws and policies, through which the Indian troops abuse their power and target civilians, according to the Kashmiri population. Troops have been accused of staging gunfights and then saying the victims were militants to claim rewards and promotions.

Moreover, the killing of Athar Mushtaq came a few months after a rare admission of wrongdoing by the Indian military, which conceded that soldiers exceeded their legal powers in the deaths of three local men. Upon investigation, police concluded that an Indian army officer and two civilian army sources killed the three laborers after stripping them of their identities and claiming them as hardcore terrorists, and killing them in occupied Kashmir. The officer has now been charged with murder.

While the authorities say the policy in occupied Kashmir is aimed at stopping the spread of the coronavirus, but rights activists and residents say it is an attempt by the government to avoid large funerals that fuel more resentment against India. The inspector general of police, Vijay Kumar, said in a recent interview with The Hindu newspaper that the policy not only stopped the spread of Covid infections but also stopped the “glamorizing of terrorists” and avoided potential law and order problems.

“Not returning the bodies of the slain is a humiliation to humanity,” said Zareef Ahmed Zareef, a civil rights campaigner and prominent Kashmiri poet. Families of the victims have endlessly demanded the authorities in occupied Kashmir to return the bodies of their loved ones to perform final rituals and say their goodbyes.

These pleas have constantly been ignored by the Indian forces. Until last April, Indian forces in occupied Kashmir had handed the bodies of rebels to their relatives for burial. Since then, according to police, 158 “militants” have been buried at isolated locations.

Athar’s body was the last one denied to relatives last year, 2020 in occupied Kashmir. On Dec 30, when Ahmed heard about his son’s killing, he rushed to a police facility in Srinagar where Athar’s body was being kept. When police later transported the body, along with those of the two other men, to a remote mountain for burial, Ahmed followed them. Along the way, he was stopped several times but pleaded with the Indian forces to let him see his son’s face one last time, he stated. When he finally reached the burial site, he was shattered. Ahmed said the graves had been dug by an earthmover, contrary to traditional practice in which they are dug by shovels and marked with marble gravestones. “They were not graves but hurriedly dug pits,” he said. “I myself lowered my son into that pit.”

Human rights activists strongly condemn this act and demand Indian authorities in occupied Kashmir to stop this insanity. “It is an outright violation of international law and against the Geneva Conventions,” said Parvez Imroz, a prominent human rights lawyer. “This is even against local laws.”

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