Director General of Jammu and Kashmir Police Dilbag Singh has said the bodies of militants are not being handed over to their families and buried away from homes to ensure physical distancing during the coronavirus pandemic, The Indian Express reported on Sunday.

The last funeral of a militant was held on April 9. The body of Hizbul Mujahideen’s chief operation commander Riyaz Naikoo, killed in an encounter with security forces in the Beighpora area of Pulwama on Wednesday, was also buried in a different district. However, authorities have returned bodies of those who have tested positive for the coronavirus, while ensuring that the numbers at the funeral is kept to the minimum.

“The Ministry of Home Affairs, through a letter, advised that bodies of militants not be returned,” Singh told the newspaper in an interview. “We are, however, allowing the family at burials.”

He added that the directives were issued after three funerals in April drew large crowds. “The home ministry directive cited Covid-19 and the flouting of social distancing norms during funerals, and we are implementing that order and following the SOP [standard operating procedure],” he said.

The director general of police added that the restrictions in connection with the militants’ funerals were also necessary as large gatherings increase chances of confrontation with the police. On several occasions, gun salutes have been offered to militants at their funerals. According to police assessment, militant outfits have used funerals in the past to recruit individuals.

At least sixteen civilians were injured in clashes after the killing of Naikoo and one of his associates in Beighpora village. The Valley was also hit by massive protests and violence after the death of Hizbul commander Burhan Wani in June 2016.

Singh anticipated that militant recruitment could see a downfall after Naikoo’s death. “He was commanding the Hizb [Hizbul Mujahideen] since 2012, his appeals through his audio clips were heard and heeded...The HM still has the numbers but we do not see anyone being able to operate at his level,” he added.

Dr Saifullah, a local militant from Pulwama, may take over as head of the Hizbul Mujahideen after Naikoo, Singh said. The police chief said they had been tracking Naikoo for six months through the overground worker network, before the crackdown at Beighpora earlier this week.

One of the longest surviving militants, Naikoo had joined Hizbul Mujahideen in May 2012 at the age of 27. Until then, Naikoo worked as a teacher at a private school and also ran a tuition centre.

Meanwhile, Syed Salahuddin, chief of Hizbul Mujahideen, said that the killing of Naikoo is a shock for the militant group, Hindustan Times reported. “It’s a shock for all of us but these sacrifices have been going on in Kashmir since long,” he said in a video shared on social media. “Since January this year, 80 mujahideens [terrorists] have been eliminated by the security forces and all of them were highly educated and trained.” could not independently verify the authenticity of the video.

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Kashmir: Amidst Covid-19 lockdown, security operations in Valley continue – as do militant attacks