ADDRESS THE CRISIS NOW

The government has never denied that the phenomenon does not exist. It has, however, offered conflicting statistics about the number of the persons who vanished after being arrested formally and informally. Unlike families that have buried their members slain since 1990, hundreds of families lacking whereabouts of their near and dear ones even lack any iota of information. Initially they were selling their assets to fund their trips to mainland jails.

After failing to get any information, they started petitioning the courts. In scores of cases, there were investigations – judicial and police probes. In most of these probes, the accused were identified. But not in a single case, justice was done.  The issue of unmarked graves of unidentified people added another dimension to the crisis. Civil society groups did painstaking investigation and surveys across the state to locate these graves.

The case, after a lot of world attention, went to the headless state human rights commission. The Commission did pass an order and it seemed that the state government might respond positively to the recommendations.  Last week, the police came with a suggestion that the Commission should wind up the case as most of the people buried in the graves are militants. And, the issue will be tackled by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has talked about. It has been the actual response of the state on the issue in which the government has referred to a concept that is utopian to many in Delhi and Srinagar.

The families have done whatever they could. Now their last resort is to assemble once in a month in Srinagar to make symbolic protest. The newest development on their front is to create a memorial in Kashmir. Even this has an interesting story. In 2002 when the association of parents of disappeared persons wanted to create a memorial in Eidgah, adjacent to the sprawling cemetery, the government sent cops to demolish the foundation stone. Families of the disappeared were beaten, the foundation stoned was seized and an FIR was lodged against them. This forced the families to raise donation and procure a piece of land in the periphery of the city to construct a memorial there for which efforts are on.

At the same time, another civil liberty group has offered a documented list of more than 500 disappeared persons to the SHRC. They are willing to offer their DNA for the DNA fingerprints that the Commission once had suggested.

The government should start addressing the issue. The families are seeking a full-fledged commission to tackle the cases of not only those individuals who vanished in the custody of various forces fighting militancy, but of those who disappeared in the custody of insurgents and counter-insurgents as well. If a commission is set up, it will not only investigate the heabus corpus, but will also tackle the related issues of rehabilitation. It is an issue that should be tackled well before it starts frustrating the second generation.

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