Thirteen months and 21 days after Rifleman Shakir Manzoor was killed, the fallen soldier was given a final salute and his burial with military honours gave his father – Manzoor Ahmad Wagay – closure after a year-long search to find the body of his missing son.
Hundreds of villagers attended the funeral as the Army held a wreath-laying ceremony. There were emotional scenes as the body reached Shakir Manzoor’s native village.
For more than a year his father had left home every morning with shovels and spades to dig earth in attempt to find his son’s body. He always returned empty-handed.
It was eventually identified by Wagay as his missing son, who had been kidnapped and killed by terrorists in Shopian district on August 2 last year
As senior Army officers offered their condolences, Wagay told a commander he and his fallen son had been suspected of links to terrorism after Shakir’s disappearance.
He told the commander he had been living with that stigma till the body was found yesterday.
“I thank God the body was recovered. I was living with a stigma. Whenever I would go to police and ask them about my son, they would say, ‘don’t know… he may be in Pakistan, he may have joined terrorists’,” he told NDTV.
“After listening to this I would cry and return home. It is very sad that I lost my son but I’m happy today that the stigma is removed. No one would trust me,” he added.
Days after the abduction, Wagay found Shakir’s blood-soaked clothes in an orchard. Since then, it has been an ordeal. There has been no help from the government, and no one from the administration or Army visited, the family said.
Wagay, 56, a farmer, said he knew his son’s killers – they were terrorists who tortured and killed him because they wanted to extract a statement that he refused to make.
After maintaining silence for months, the police had said the terrorist who claimed to have killed Shakir had themselves been killed in an encounter. There was no clue about Shakir’s body, they said.
All through Wagay asked for his son to be recognised as one who had laid down his life for the country.
Officially, however, Shakir remained listed as ‘missing’ and not ‘dead’ until his body was recovered. This meant his family could not get his salary or the compensation paid to families of fallen soldiers.
Shakir Manzoor had come home to celebrate Eid with his family.
He went missing while driving back to his camp. The following day police found his burnt car and, a few days later, his blood-soaked clothes were found in an apple orchard.
Subsequently, an audio clip surfaced with terrorists claiming responsibility. They talked about denying his family their son’s body in retaliation for a government policy of not handing over bodies of local militants to their families.
Since March 2020 last year, even the bodies of civilians killed in security forces’ actions have not been handed to their families due to COVID-19 protocols.