When his lone son named Athar Mushtaq was alive, Mushtaq Ahmad Wani would always keep him under his gaze and close to his chest. Now after his son's death, the grieving father maintains the sentiments as he wants government sanction to shift his son's body into a grave he dug up himself in his village in Jammu and Kashmir's Pulwama on Saturday.
Athar Mushtaq (17) and two other young men, aged 22 and 24, were on Wednesday killed in an encounter with Army and Jammu and Kashmir Police in Srinagar, triggering a controversy as their families have raised questions over the genuity of the gunbattle. The charges have been rebutted by Army and Jammu and Kashmir Police, which described the slain youngsters as "terrorists" and "overground workers", respectively. The families of slain youngsters have maintained since the beginning that all three were "innocent and killed in a staged encounter". In response to it, the police have ramped up its claim citing that they have a digital proof and intelligence evidence that suggest the trio were involved in "militant activities".
"My child was minor, innocent and killed in cold blood," Wani reiterated.
On the fourth mourning day, the distraught father quietly came out of his home, picked up a spade and shovel and paced towards his native graveyard in Bellow village of Pulwama. To the shock of villagers, he began digging a grave on his own even as relatives and neighbours offered to help. "I want to do it myself," he told them to which they responded with slogans like "Athar ke laash wapis karo, wapis karo" (give us back Athar's body).
A seemingly broken Wani said that nothing will deter him from claiming the body of his son which was buried on Wednesday in Sonamarg - an area more than hundred kilometres away from his village - under a constant police vigil. As part of a new protocol started last year, the government will not hand over the bodies of militants to their families to discourage fresh militant recruitments during huge funeral rallies that used to take place earlier.
"I will visit the Police Control Room Srinagar tomorrow and urge the officials to return the body of my son. If they won't, I will kill himself," he said with teary eyes. "Athar was passed off as a militant by the security forces for their personal gains," Wani said, adding that he is willing to wait for his son's body till eternity.
Meanwhile, the families of the other two slain youngsters, who ironically have members working for the Jammu and Kashmir Police, have also demanded returning of their bodies and a fair investigation into the encounter. The police has assured that they will be initiating a probe and its officers would bring out the facts.
Former Chief Ministers Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti have demanded the bodies to be returned to the families so that they can give their sons a proper burial. Mufti even wrote a letter to Lieutenant Governor Manoj Singh.
(With inputs by Qayoom Khan)