On a day of fast-paced developments, the Jammu and Kashmir government began a probe into the Hyderpora encounter on Thursday, in which the kin of three of the four persons killed have claimed that they were innocent.
The government has also decided to exhume and hand over their bodies to their kins.
The political parties rallied behind the families and staged peaceful protests led by former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah.
Hours after Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha ordered a magisterial probe into the killings, Deputy Commissioner of Srinagar Muhammad Aijaz Asad appointed Additional District Magistrate Khurshid Ahmad Shah as inquiry officer.
Shah issued a public notice, urging people who wish to record their statement in connection with Monday’s encounter to approach his office within 10 days.
The magisterial probe was ordered amid protests by families of three of the four persons killed in the encounter, claiming their relatives were innocent.
The kin of Mohammad Altaf Bhat (building owner), Mudasir Gul (tenant), and Amir Magray (Gul’s office boy) have been protesting against the killings, which they described as cold-blooded murder.
The relatives of Bhat and Gul were camping at Press Colony since Wednesday morning, to press for return of the bodies which were buried in the dead of night of Monday at Handwara in North Kashmir.
The day began with viral videos doing rounds, which showed police removing families of two civilians from the protest site at Residency Road around midnight.
The families were taken for a meeting with senior officials at police control room in Kashmir, where they reiterated their demand for return of the bodies.
Bhat’s family welcomed the probe ordered by the administration but appealed to the Lt. Governor to return his body so that his kids can see him for one last time.
Omar, who is the vice president of the National Conference, moved near the residence of Chief Justice of Jammu and Kashmir High Court and staged a non-violent sit-in along with party leaders, to demand for the return of bodies of the civilians killed in the Hyderpora encounter.
“We are sitting here peacefully. If we wanted, we would have blocked roads, bridges, but no. There has been no sloganeering, no law-and-order disturbance and no road has been blocked. We are not raising voice against the government, we just demand that bodies be returned,” Omar told reporters at the Municipal Park.
Omar said that despite the fact that the police admitted that the civilian was killed in crossfire, his body was not given to the family, but buried in Handwara.
In a related development, People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) met at the residence of its president Farooq Abdullah to discuss the situation arising out of the encounter.
After the meeting, Mohammad Tarigami, who is the spokesman of the PAGD, said they would be exploring all avenues to end the culture of impunity and the bloodshed.
“We will be writing to the President of India this evening, seeking a credible probe into the Hyderpora incident. In our view, only a judicial probe can be credible and fair,” Tarigami said.
The veteran CPI(M) leader said that the PAGD leaders, except PDP president Mehbooba Mufti, met at the residence of Abdullah to discuss the “unfortunate situation” arising out of the “killing of three innocent civilians” at Hyderpora on Monday. He claimed that Mehbooba was placed under house arrest by the authorities.
Tarigami also said that the magisterial probe ordered by the Jammu and Kashmir government was not fair, as it was against the principles of justice that the “accused administration investigated the charges against itself”.
“The PAGD leaders also appeal to the people and leadership of the country to rise in defence of Democratic rights of citizens of India from Jammu and Kashmir as well. There is a need to share this pain of Kashmir before it is too late, ” Tarigami said.
The PAGD spokesman refused to answer any questions other that related to the meeting of amalgam saying “we are not here to do politics over the bodies of innocent civilians.”
The People’s Conference and High Court Bar Association also held a protest against the killings.
Meanwhile, the Hurriyat Conference has called for a general strike on Friday to press for the demand for returning the bodies of the slain men to their families.
According to a report by The Indian Express, the bodies of Bhat and Gul were exhumed by the J&K administration on Thursday, but they have not been handed over to their families yet. No call has been made yet on whether Magray’s body would be exhumed too.
This is the first time since the pandemic that the police has allowed exhumation of bodies, despite several demands for exhumation in the last year as well. Last year, the J&K police had decided that they would not return the bodies of militants to their families, as intelligence agencies were concerned about the big militant funerals.
(With inputs from Agencies)