(From left to right): Muhammad Altaf Bhat, Amir Lateef Magray, Mudasir Gul, and unidentified body, who police claimed is Haider – a foreign militant.

Wudder Payeen (Handwara): On a chilling night of 15 November [2021] around 8 pm, the villagers of Wudder Payeen, after performing the last prayers of the day, were at their homes looking forward to having dinner before going to bed, when they heard some activity in the village.

Without wasting any time, the villagers, mostly men, assembled at a common point on the street to inquire about the matter when the news that three dead bodies from Srinagar are on their way for a burial dawned upon them.

About 90 kilometers from the capital city Srinagar, Wudder Payeen village in north Kashmir’s Handwara district is one of the few destinations that have been identified by the Jammu and Kashmir government to bury militants killed in a gunfight instead of handing over the bodies to the family, as was the norm earlier.

The four bodies, villagers said, that were about to be buried were the ones killed in a Hyderpora gunfight in Srinagar earlier in the day.

According to the official police handout, on 16 November 2021, during a joint cordon and search operation launched by police, 2RR and CRPF, after receiving inputs about the presence of militants in an illegal call centre rented for business in a commercial building, killed a foreign militant Bilal Bhai alias Haidar, and his local associate Amir Magray from Ramban district.

The statement said that Dr Mudasir Gul, who police said was an Over Ground Worker (OGW) and was running an illegal call centre in the building [which later turned in a gunfight site] and Muhammad Altaf Bhat, owner of the building were killed in crossfire.

However, the families of all the three slain civilians [Magray, Bhat and Gul] have rejected the police version that their kin were involved in the militancy.

As reported earlier, The Kashmir Walla while speaking with the eyewitnesses on the spot, said that Bhat and Gul were assembled in a showroom, while Amir spent 30 minutes in the nearby Classic hospital before the trio were taken at the gunfight where they were ultimately killed.

Talking to The Kashmir Walla, villagers in Wudder Payeen said that they started digging the graves after 10:30pm. And in the meanwhile, it was said a fourth body is also coming, villagers said.

“It was a very cold night. There was no electricity and we were short of people to dig four graves simultaneously. So, we brought some people from a marriage celebration that was taking place at some distance from the graveyard,” they said.

As per the villagers, the three bodies that initially reached at the graveyard include of Bilal Bhai alias Haidar, Amir Magray, and Muhammad Altaf Bhat. The body of Mudasir Gul, villagers said, reached almost an “hour later” after the three bodies.

As per the villagers, many of whom participated in the Namaz-e-Janazah [Islamic funeral prayer], all four slain had deep wounds on their heads, with two clearly appearing to be gunshot wounds on the forehead.

Eyewitnesses said that Mudasir and Haidar had gunshot wounds on the frontal bone of the head, while Bhat and Amir had wounds on occipital bone [back of the head]. Bhat also had a gunshot on his right leg as well.

“In Haidar’s case, the bullet had pierced through his head. He had a big hole at the back of his head,” one of the locals said. “The villagers had to wrap Gul’s and Haidar’s head with surgical tape before covering them in a shroud.”

Villagers said that it was at 5am [on Tuesday], when all the four bodies were finally laid to rest.

“At 6am, people completed the process of burying them, before they left from the graveyard,” they said.

Digging graves to bury militants is not a new phenomenon for the Wudder Payeen villagers. Locals said that in the past two years they have buried around 114 bodies, all militants, in the designated graveyard.

On 19 November, four days after Bhat and Gul were buried in Wudder Payeen, the administration succumbing to the family pressure after they hit to the streets the return of their bodies, exhumed their bodies from the graves and handed over them to their kins to bury them at their respective ancestral graveyards.

Villagers said that it was 7pm when all the officials that include Superintendent of Police (SP), Deputy SP Handwara, Station Head Officer (SHO), Tehsildar and Naib Tehsildar visited the graveyard, after which the two bodies were exhumed and taken back to Srinagar.

After authorities handed over the bodies of Bhat and Gul to the families of Srinagar for the proper burial, Amir’s family had also written to the district administration Ramban for the mortal remains of their son as well.

Amir’s father, Muhammad Lateef Magray, said that the authorities offered to have a last glance of their kin without handing over the body, which the family rejected.

The government has appointed Additional District Magistrate Srinagar Khurshid Ahmad Shah as an Inquiry Officer (IO) to probe the incident and directed him to submit the report within 15 days.

However, the investigating officer is yet to record the statement of the families of the three killed in the incident.

This story first appeared on thekashmirwalla.com