Mangled, charred bodies of Kashmiri militants a cruel reminder of Indian Army’s violation of Geneva Convention

TCN Correspondent

Srinagar: – “Do you have the courage to quantify the pain of parents who apart from receiving the coffins, receive mangled bodies? Can you feel the pain of a mother who didn’t get closure by hugging her dead son one last time? Imagine the horror of a mother who received her son’s body in parts, for whom she nurtured all her life, whose lips dried praying for her son’s safety!”

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Sarah (name changed on the request of the family) is neither angry nor does she hold any grudge against the Indian army; however, what has left her shattered to the very core is the fact that her son’s body was charred beyond recognition. What she received were a few mangled, burnt pieces. She never thought of such humiliation to the bodies.

Majid Zargar, 26, last visited his home to meet his mother in a south Kashmir village back in 2012. Zargar, a secondary school pass-out from St Luke’s Convent school, Anantnag, was an active militant for the last four years. He joined Lashkar-e-Taiba, climbing its ranks to become the district commander for Kulgam.

In December 2016, Majid and his colleague Rahil Amin Dar alias Asif, a resident of Vesu-Qazigund, were killed in a 42-hour-long fierce gunfight between militants and security forces at Arwani in South Kashmir’s Anantnag district. According to reports, the bodies of the duo were charred beyond recognition.

A resident of Zargar’s Village in South Kashmir, who wishes anonymity said, “There were no bodies, just lumps of flesh and bones. We couldn’t recognise them, we just buried those lumps.”

“The forces used heavy mortars against the militants,” locals said, adding that Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) were planted, razing the house down where the militants were hiding to dust.

“It was a fierce encounter that lasted for many hours, five other houses in the vicinity were also damaged due to the usage of heavy explosive material,” the local added.

 The villagers followed the funeral when Ghulam Mohudin Zargar, father of the slain militant Majid recognised some parts of his body.

On Jun 23, 2017, three teenagers: Shakir Ahmad Gogjoo, 18, Majid Ahmad Mir, both natives of Kakapora town in Pulwama and Irshad Ahmad Dar (Sheraz) of Aghanjipora- Padgampora in Awantipora area were killed in a gunfight in Kakapora. According to family members, the bodies of the trio they received were charred beyond recognition.

Aadil Ahmad, a cousin of Shakir says, “One thing we will always regret is that we could not see his face one last time as his entire body was charred. We buried a few pieces of flesh.”

Aadil says that they distributed the pieces of flesh into three families to be buried in their native graveyards just to get some remote sense of closure. He says people came from far to catch the last glimpse of the rebels, which is a regular procedure in Kashmir, but there was nothing to show. “We just had a hushed funeral followed by a quick and early burial,” he added.

On June 2017, Junaid Mattoo, who had succeeded Majid Zargar as district commander of Lashkar-i-Toiba (LeT) was killed along with his associate in South Kashmir. According to reports, the bodies were charred beyond recognition as the forces set the houses ablaze, where the militants were taking shelter, after dousing it in petrol.

Such incidents are neither new nor uncommon. Eighteen years ago, personnel of the 7 Rashtriya Rifles (7RR) of Indian Army carried out an operation to take down five “foreign militants” in the forests of Pathribal in Anantnag, Jammu and Kashmir. The army claimed that the slain men were responsible for shooting 36 Sikh men on March 20, 2000, in what is now known as the Chittisinghpora massacre. It later emerged that the five men who were killed by the Army were actually residents of villages around Pathribal, who had been abducted by army and police before the encounter. Apart from being shot dead, the bodies of the five men were also burnt beyond recognition.

On February 08, 2004, the Indian Army allegedly dragged bodies of five of its porters in Chitty Banday, Bandipora area of North Kashmir in a forest. The Army later claimed that they were killed in the encounter when militants opened fire on them. Khurram Parvez, a Kashmir-based human rights defender while taking the example of this incident says, “When we questioned the Army that if they were your own men and obviously they would have been without booby traps then why did you drag them, they had no answer. The reason is it was a Kashmiri’s body and the Army couldn’t’ care less about respecting them. We still have pictures of the porters with us.”

 Indian Army’s Modus Operandi

The Indian Army usually, with the help of local intelligence and other sources, gets a tip-off about the presence of militants in a particular house or place, and then they launch a Cordon and Search Operation. During a couple of gunfights with militants, it has been noticed, that security forces first blow up the houses where the militants are holed up with explosives and then set it on fire to kill any chances of the militants escaping alive.

According to sources, the security forces are using such tactics as they have their reasons. The forces are more likely to suffer casualties if the gunfight lasts for long. Moreover, they also fear being attacked by the locals who usually rush to save the trapped militants.

Khurram Parvez argues that it is not an isolated case, (while referring to the recent viral picture of a militant’s body being dragged by security forces that sparked outrage in Kashmir) where this kind of dehumanising treatment was meted out with the dead bodies of militants, “We have had so many cases where bodies of militants were dragged or mutilated,” he says.

According to Parvez, “When a soldier is working in a hostile situation, he has to face psychological problems and he needs something to vent out his anger which is why you see such incidents where rapes become a tool to spread fear, civilians getting tortured, and dead bodies are disrespected. But what is shocking is when people justify it. Moreover, the ongoing hatred among Indians has a direct impact on its soldiers as that they are connected.

The pictures of a dead militant, supine and facedown with army soldiers pulling the chain tied to his legs, in Reasi district of Jammu went viral on social media last week and attracted widespread condemnation.

“By taking selfies with the dead bodies, they treat them as trophies or vile tools that they can use to deliberately provoke the people of Kashmir. It is the extreme manifestation of sadness and hatred in India,” Khuram says.

The gunfight also drew Hindutva activists to the spot to pose for pictures. One such picture circulated on WhatsApp showed Rakesh Sharma, the vice president of the Hindutva outfit Bajrang Dal in Jammu, close to a dead body at the site of the gunfight. The photo seems to have been taken by Sharma himself.

The Indian Army, already facing a raft of allegations over human rights violations in the insurgency-hit state, refused to speak on the latest controversy.

However, talking to, Lt General Ata Hasnain who served in Kashmir in many capacities during his career in the Army said, “It was not necessary to drag the body of the killed militant. If it is suspected that the body may be booby-trapped, then an entire procedure is followed to isolate and secure the area with a bomb disposal squad or other trained personnel. A 30-feet rope could be used to disturb the body to set off any switches to detonate explosives if attached. The dragging of the body with a short rope in the presence of the media is against all rules of the Army. I would suggest that troops be better instructed and trained in post operations management of situations. They should read and understand the Army instructions and then follow them. Our Army is the most disciplined force in the world; we follow the principle of fairness and humanity; we have never believed in the desecration of dead bodies of our enemies unlike what they do.”

When asked about the burning of bodies of militants in Kashmir valley after the encounter he said, “This is the wrong allegation against the Army; militant bodies often get charred inside the houses when they are targeted with rockets and bombs. The charred remains are then shown to project the Army incorrectly. The Indian Army is one of those armies which have even rescued terrorists during natural disasters.”

Lieutenant General (retired) Mohinder Puri, who fought in Kargil war in 1999, says, “Our tradition has been to respect the dead bodies, we buried over around 160 dead bodies of Pak army with due respect during the Kargil war. Enmity gets over when you kill your enemy and then you have to respect the corpse. In this case (referring to the dragging of militant in Jammu), as reportedly I have heard that it might be the case of “bobby trap” if that is a reason for dragging the body then it completely changes the narrative of the story. As per the Geneva Convention, you have to respect the dead body of your enemy.”

According to the Geneva Convention, the prohibition of mutilating dead bodies in international armed conflicts are covered by the war crime of “committing outrages upon personal dignity” under the Statute of the International Criminal Court. Each party to the dispute must take all possible measures to prevent the dead from being despoiled.

 For close to three decades, since armed resistance intensified in the disputed region, the Indian army has frequently faced allegations of human rights violations in the valley.

 In June this year, The UN human rights chief called for an international investigation into abuses in Kashmir, as his office released its first-ever report on alleged rights violations committed by both India and Pakistan in the disputed territory.