the reports of thousands of unidentified graves of unknown people in Poonch horror stories of the anonymously killed are also coming alive. A Kashmir Life report, about mass graves, that may contain scores of heads sans bodies.

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Every evening a large section of people visit a small shrine of Syed Hyder Ali Shah Door Shahid at Surankote to pay obeisance. Hindus, Muslims, Policemen and army personnel, all visit the shrine. They all seek blessings from Sofi Aziz Joo, an aged care taker of the Shrine. The shrine is close to Surankote graveyard and Aziz is also gravedigger of this largest graveyard in Surankote town.    

He is the only gravedigger in this frontier town who has singlehandedly buried hundreds of unidentified bodies, often mutilated, bullet riddled and sometimes heads only without bodies.

Sufi’s forefathers migrated from Kashmir Valley to Poonch some hundred years ago. Unlike the general perception that Kashmir is only reside in the valley, there is a large number Kashmir is in Poonch and the older generation among them speak Kashmiri language. Sufi is one of them.

He has sold 4 kanals of his land to purchase shrouds and bricks for the burial of unidentified bodies of unknown people handed over to him by police over the years.

Police and Army would hand over the bullet-ridden, disfigured bodies to him with an instruction to bury them in the graveyard opposite the small shrine close to army garrison. The bodies would come anytime and burials were to be made without involving the townsfolk.

The 90-year old gravedigger cum caretaker of graveyard used to bury them with the help of two labourers.

“Once police brought 16 unidentified bodies and asked me to bury them, I along with couple of labourers dug out a single grave to bury them all,” said Sofi, pointing towards a raised ground in the graveyard full of wild grass. “I don’t remember the date, for I am old now but I remember that Police said they were killed in Modpichae village,” he said.

There are other mass graves in the graveyard, he says and points towards another grave, which according to him hold five bodies. To Sofi’s knowledge Police used to tell him that the slain were militants. “They (Police) used to hand over bodies usually bullet ridden or disfigured saying they were militants killed by Army in gunfights,” he says. “It was difficult to recognize them, for they used to be mutilated.”

There have been times when Sofi buried only heads brought to him, a practice that he later objected to.
“Over a period of time, it appeared fishy and I started refusing taking ‘only heads’ for burial. I began to ask questions and was demanding the whole body.” Sofi recalls Police and Army once handed over six heads and asked him to bury them.

“Until then bodies mostly disfigured without limbs used to come but I had never seen human heads only. It was the first time I was seeing such a horror and I broke down,” said Sofi.

He buried the six heads, however Police insisted Joo should give them in writing that he took six bodies from them instead of just heads.

“They took in writing from me despite my protests,” said Sofi. “What could have I done?”

But the next time again the police came with seven heads and asked Sofi to bury them. “I wrapped the heads in shrouds and buried them. They took receipt for seven bodies from me,” he said.However, the third time when policemen came up with some 15 heads Joo protested. “I thought come what may, I will not do it anymore,” he said. “Then they left.”
Sofi has been burying unidentified bodies since 1990. Every day he would get one or two bodies from the police for burial and unlike in the Kashmir valley no local residents were permitted to help him in the burials.

For each body Sofi would receive for burial, he was supposed to put his signature on a foolscap paper, apparently a takeover receipt for the record. Police personnel after handing over bodies to Sofi would remain on guard until he would complete the burial process. “Those days taking part in funeral of alleged militant would have amounted to sign one’s own death warrant,” said a local resident.

Inside the graveyard there are also seven different graves containing bodies of policemen with proper name plates. The remaining graves are housing many mysteries along with the dead.

 In Thanamandi some 40 km from Surankote town, the situation is not different.Here shrouds are always available for at least 15 more bodies.

“Police would tell us that the bodies are of unidentified militants killed in encounters by the army. They would tell us to bury them without making any issue of them,” said Shamsheer Ahmad Lone.

When the dead bodies started arriving regularly, they devoted one portion of the graveyard for the unidentified bodies. Over the years, according to Lone, he and others buried some 70 unidentified bodies there.


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