Tragedy

The smallest coffin sent across the Line of Control

In a deadly mishap at the Line of Control (LoC), a minor boy from Astoor area of Pakistan Administrated Kashmir lately drowned in the Kishanganga river. But an emotional video of the boy’s mournful parents and subsequent surfacing of his body in Gurez led to a series of events never before witnessed across the fence infamous for dividing families.  

It was a regular outing for the women of Achoora village, in northern Kashmir’s Gurez valley, when the turquoise blue Kishenganga river they were walking alongside threw a shocker on July 9, 2019.

Out to collect routine firewood for flaming their hearths, the horrifying sight of a little body stuck to the embankment startled the chattering women into silence. They jumped to alert passersby and managed to free the cadaver from the bank’s hook.

Just a day ago, the locals’ phones were buzzing with social media updates about a missing seven-year-old named Abid Sheikh who had been suspected of having fallen into the Neelum river—called Kishenganga in the Kashmir Valley.

The corpse retrieved seemed to be a minor’s and the rescue team of Gurezi women deduced that they had found the missing boy from Pakistan Administered Kashmir’s Astoor area.

Abid had been reported missing around 12 pm on July 8 by Muzaffarabad-based journalists, who used Facebook and WhatsApp to spread the word around towns falling on the other side of the LoC. Villagers around Gurez and proactive Pakistani journalists, succeeded in making the news of Abid known to many in the Kashmir Valley.

On confirming his identity through photos on Facebook, Gurezis notified the authorities and a meeting was quickly arranged between the civil administrators, police and the army.

They recognized the boy to be the missing child from Pakistan Administrated Kashmir, and consensually decided that the Indian Army will try to make contact with their Pakistani counterparts to handover the body to the family. They shifted his body to the Sub-District Hospital Dawar Gurez, for a post mortem and forensic inspection.

Due to submersion in the river and a warmer Gurez, the body was decomposing at a rate faster than normal. The child’s skull was severely injured by the occasional stretches of rapids and boulders in the river. Medical Officer of Gurez’s Sub-District Hospital, Dr. AbuBakar, said that his team at the hospital completed all formalities two hours after the body was brought in. 

“We’ve sent the heart, lungs, spleen, kidney and stomach to the Forensic Science Laboratory in Srinagar and they might take up to a month to produce the final report,” the doctor said.

His team’s initial findings suggested that the boy had died due to drowning and serious head injuries, but, he believes, from his experience, that other intricate details can be discovered through the next report. 

“Since this is a case where the details can’t be ascertained, we are conducting a 2-tier forensic investigation,” Dr. AbuBakr continued. “Generally in situations where eye-witnesses are present for corroboration, a basic post-mortem is conducted. This is a delicate matter and also a mysterious one, hence we need to wait for more details from Srinagar.”

Meanwhile, after the opinion of the District Magistrate was taken on the matter, the Indian Army got in touch with the Pakistani Army to return the body of the boy, said Tariq Ahmed, Station House Officer (SHO), Gurez.

“But there was some delay caused due to confusion over the meeting point,” the officer said. “The Indian officers were of the notion that Abid Sheikh’s body was to be sent through the Kupwara border in Teetwal but the Pakistani army wasn’t present at the proposed meeting point.” 

When the Indian jeep was enroute Teetwal, they received a message that the Pakistani officials will be at Chorwan to receive the body. “They reversed their track and made it to the point at 3 pm, but Pakistan hadn’t sent any representatives despite calling them there,” SHO Tariq said.

Locals in Gurez whispered that Pakistan sent some civilians to fetch the body but called them back halfway because of the landmines planted around the Line of Control. 

Zeeshan Mir, an under-graduate student from Chandigarh who is currently spending time with his family in Dawar area of Gurez was privy to the hearsay. He said that the villagers cheered their intuition after officials confirmed the landmine-angle.

The Indian army, in the meantime, made one last attempt and left for the Chorwan post at 10 am, the SHO said. “Carrying a white flag with them to signal the watchful bunkers of their peaceful intentions, they trekked through the forest and finally met their Pakistani counterparts.”

The handover took place at 12 pm and history was created.

For the first time since 1947, the locals said, the two neighbouring armies crossed paths at that part of the LoC which is considered to have been a segment of the ancient Silk Route.

“This successful encounter for the purpose of peace and goodwill, which was facilitated by the people of our village, will never be forgotten,” Zeeshan said. “This is a moment of pride for us.”

Without the prompt action of local Gurezis and internet connectivity through the new Jio towers, the boy’s remains would have never made it back to his family. 

“This would have been impossible without the army’s co-operation and the locals,” SHO Tariq said. “The villagers are extremely elated and feel accomplished about playing an instrumental role in ensuring that the child’s dead body reached home for a burial. They kept themselves updated about every development.”

However, sending people over is quite a task.

“But the family’s video was very evocative and that instigated the army’s 109 Brigade to ensure that the body was handed over as soon as possible,” the SHO said.

Irshad Dar, a local molvi who was taken by the Indian officials to the LoC for the coffin handover, said that highly-guarded fences are imagined lines that have only torn families apart.

“When I saw the Pakistani army I realised how similar both sides are. We need to put an end to our squabbles and stay like a family,” he said. “The LoC has divided families that live their entire lives without meeting their relatives living just a few kilometres away.”

The latest episode has once again shifted focus on the LoC barrier and how it continues to divide the families, in their joy and grief.

 

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