Jammu and Kashmir: Uri gravedigger who testified in unmarked graves probe dies

Atta Mohammad had buried more than 200 bodies — mostly of young men, and all of them unidentified — and as caretaker of the “martyrs’ cemetery” of Bimyar in Uri.

Written by Bashaarat Masood | Srinagar | Updated: January 12, 2016 10:16 am
A Kashmiri man prays near an unmarked grave inside a martyrs graveyard in Srinagar, Kashmir. (Source: AP file photo) A Kashmiri man prays near an unmarked grave inside a martyrs graveyard in Srinagar, Kashmir. (Source: AP file photo)

The death of a gravedigger has never been mourned like this, perhaps. But then, Atta Mohammad was no ordinary gravedigger for locals. He had buried more than 200 bodies — mostly of young men, and all of them unidentified — and as caretaker of the “martyrs’ cemetery” of Bimyar in Uri, had testified as a witness in the government probe into the phenomenon of unmarked graves in the state.

Mohammad died of kidney failure on Sunday. He was 75.

“He received 235 unidentified, bullet-riddled bodies in his village over the last many years. Most of them were militants killed in encounters, according to the armed forces,” said Khurram Parvez, a human rights activist and coordinator of the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society. “He was perhaps the only gravedigger who did not mind being identified publicly despite being intimidated by the police.”

An accidental gravedigger, the Bimyar farmer became a caretaker of the cemetery after a police team appeared in the village in 2003 with two bodies and asked villagers to bury them. Mohammad and others buried them in a plot of barren land. Suddenly bodies started appearing every now and then and the barren land was turned into a cemetery, and Mohammad its caretaker.