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Saturday, April 17, 2021

For 8 months, a father in J&K has been digging for missing son’s body

Manzoor Ahmad Wagay has been digging the earth for the past eight months now. What he hopes to find one day is his son’s body — the son who would have been 25 years old in a few days.

Written by Naveed Iqbal | Harmain (shopian) |
Updated: March 31, 2021 8:17:21 am
Manzoor Ahmad Wagay’s son Shakir Manzoor was a Territorial Army soldier. (Express photo by Shuaib Masoodi)

A SHOVEL and a spade in hand, he sets out from his two-storeyed house. Depending on what he last heard, he chooses a spot and starts digging.

Manzoor Ahmad Wagay has been digging the earth for the past eight months now. What he hopes to find one day is his son’s body — the son who would have been 25 years old in a few days.

On August 2 last year, Territorial Army soldier Rifleman Shakir Manzoor was travelling between the Balpora and Bahibagh army camps in Shopian area. Since it was Eid day, he stopped to have lunch with his family on the way back and left home at 5 pm.

“That is the last time I saw him,” says his father, 56.

The last time anyone heard from Shakir was about half-an- hour later, when he called the family and said he had run into some friends and that they should not worry if his officers called to ask his whereabouts.

“I think he had been kidnapped already and he just wanted to talk to us one last time,” says Wagay.

Hours later that day, Shakir’s charred vehicle was recovered from a field in the neighbouring Kulgam district, about 16 km from his village.

About seven days later, his clothes were found in a ditch 3 km from the house. Wagay breaks down as he holds out a pair of beige trousers and a brown shirt covered with dried blood and mud. A piece of the shirt was found inside the burnt vehicle as well which, the family believes, could have been torn in the scuffle of the kidnapping.

A week after the killing, an audio clip circulated on social media made unverified claims that “the soldier’s killing and denial of his body to his family was retribution for a similar policy adopted by J&K authorities for militants killed in encounters”.

On the records, Shakir remains missing. Amritpal Singh, Superintendent of Police (Shopian), says the “case is under investigation and efforts are on to trace the body”.

Wagay is convinced that his son has been killed. “A woman had seen about four men torturing him. Given that and the blood on his clothes, I don’t think he could have survived,” he says.

Every other day since then, the father would hear about a sighting from days ago and take his shovel and head over. At first, local residents would assist in his search. But in an area covered with orchards as far as the eye can see, it has been an ordeal.

Shakir was born to Wagay and Ayesha after four daughters. He was the only one with a job and helped out the family after joining the Territorial Army in 2016, although, the family says, he wished to become a doctor.

Today, the search has left the family in severe financial strain that has also led to Shakir’s younger brother Shaan (20) dropping out of college in Aligarh. Shaan’s phone is full of photos with his older brother including one from last Eid, in the same clothes they later recovered from the ditch. It was Shaan who first raised the alarm after Shakir’s phone was found switched off.

“At some point, we heard that an arrested militant had told authorities that they had buried him next to a canal. So we hired a JCB machine and started looking for his body near every water body we could see,” Shaan says.

“Police record him as missing. If the search had been conducted more thoroughly in those first few hours, maybe we could have found his body, since he was not killed for at least the first three days,” Wagay says.

Of the four militants suspected of having kidnapped him, Wagay says he has visited the families of three to ask them where his son has been buried. “They just say that they are not involved,” he says.

The father searches for hours every day and returns to a distraught family. He has now widened his search through the three districts around his village. “I just want to be able to bury my son. Bas hamein yeh tasalli hogi ki woh sukoon se dafn hain (We will at least have the satisfaction of knowing that he is buried in peace).”

Looking back once more, he can’t help but add: “The best apple in the orchard is the one that gets pecked by the birds.”

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