It has been a painful wait for Mushtaq Ahmad Wani to bury his 16-year-old son in a grave he dug 11 months ago. Athar Mushtaq was killed in a controversial encounter on December 29 last year, but Mr Wani is still fighting to get back his body which the police buried in Sonmarg, over 140 km from his home in Kashmir's Pulwama.
A Class 11 student, Athar was in the middle of his board exams when he along with two other youth were killed in an encounter at Lawaypora near Srinagar. The board result shows Athar absent in his last paper. The family says less than three hours after he left his home, the boy was killed in the encounter.
"He had already written his four papers till December 29. That day, he was picked up at 2 pm and was made to call home at 3:30 pm. We don't know what happened after that. The next morning at 11 am, we saw his body lying at the Police Control Room," Mr Wani said.
"He was supposed to write his last paper but was killed before that. Since then, I have been demanding the return of his body but nobody listens,'' he added.
The police had issued contradictory statements on the encounter. At first, they said the three people killed in the encounter were not listed as terrorists in police records. Two days later, the police claimed that all the three were "terror associates".
The families reject the police's claim and allege that their children were killed in a staged encounter. One of the three killed was the son of a policeman. His body was also denied to his father.
Mr Wani's fight for the body of his son landed him into further trouble. The 42-year-old and seven other villagers were booked under anti-terror laws for protesting against the killings and demanding the return of their bodies.
After the recent controversial encounter in Hyderpora, the return of the bodies of the two businessmen who were killed has reignited Mr Wani's hopes to get his minor son's body back so that he can bury him in the ancestral graveyard in Pulwama.
"Nobody raised their voice for my son. I am pleading for justice. A similar incident happened at Hyderpora and bodies were returned to their families," Mr Wani said.
Families not getting the dead bodies of their dear ones is an unending tragedy in Kashmir. In a neighbouring village of Pulwama, the father of an Army soldier had to fight a lonely battle for the return of the body of his missing son to perform his last rites. Rifleman Shakir Manzoor was abducted and killed by terrorists in Shopian on August 2 last year and it took Manzoor Ahmad Wagay 13 months to recover the body of the fallen soldier.
For the last two years, the police have decided not to return the bodies of local militants and even of those killed in operations by security forces.
The return of the bodies of the two businessmen in Srinagar is only the second time when the bodies of those killed in encounters were exhumed and handed over to their families in the last year. In October last year, bodies of three labourers were exhumed two and half months after they were killed in a staged encounter by the Army in Shopian. A court of inquiry by the Army indicted its troops for killing three labourers from Rajouri and passing them off as Pakistani terrorists who were planning a major attack in the area.
Mr Wani says he wants closure. Justice, to him, is getting the body of his only son back and burying him in the empty grave he has dug near his home in Pulwama. After the Hyderpora encounter, former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah termed the denial bodies to families "a crime against humanity". Many are worried that denial of bodies to families is only accentuating the current issues in Kashmir.