Tuesday, September 27, 2011 was just a routine day of business in the history of state assembly. The issue of unmarked graves dominated Day 2 of the brief autumn session. Just how did the lawmakers grieve over the anonymous graves that dot the troubled state’s landscape?
House resumes at 10:00 hours and Speaker Mohammad Akbar Lone finds Ms Mehbooba Mufti and other PDP lawmakers on their toes. She started impressing upon the chair that their adjournment motion be accepted because the unmarked graves report of SHRC is highly sensitive. For the last one and a half months, she said, nobody in our country opened his mouth on this issue. These graves are not in Africa. Unlike British parliament, our parliament did not discuss it. There are 3000 graves, she said.
Lone says he is equally concerned as son of the soil but is bound by the House rules. “Heavens would not fall if you suspend the routine business and permit the discussion,” Ms Mufti said. “Let this house send a message out that it is concerned.”
The argument for rules and their suspension went on. Molvi Iftikhar Ansari, Muzaffar Hussain Beig, Javed Mustafa Mir, Rafi Ahmad Mir, Nizam-ud-Din Bhat and many others intervened. The Speaker stuck to his guns. In between there were heated exchanges. Some lawmakers from Jammu even suggested a separate PDP-NC house. At one point of time, the Speaker suggested to Ms Mufti that “we all are equally blamed for whatever has happened and you (read PDP) can not escape unscathed.” In the end, the question hour was almost over and the Speaker finally ruled: “I reject it.” The PDP brigade walks out, never to return for the day.
The House takes up the short duration discussion at around 12:15 hours. Mir Saifullah, one of NCs best debating lawmakers, starts his speech. The official gallery is empty. State Police Chief, Chief Secretary, Additional DG, Home Commissioner – all are out. Almost all the ministers are out, probably clearing files or busy in meetings in their allotted rooms in the House building. The opposition is now restricted to BJP and Panthers Party.
“Had Kashmir issue been solved, we might have not been counting the graves now,” Mir started. He talks of UN resolutions, agreements between India and Pakistan and finally picks up the threads of turmoil from 1989. From Hawal massacre he moves to Handwara and then offers certain specific instances of those gone missing. “There is no place where there is no graveyard,” he said and mentions Master Ali Mohamad, Wali Mir, Roug Shah and a young bridegroom who was blown to death and whose family got just a few kilograms of his body.
He talks about some specific killings that took place during the earlier PDP government. Mir sees a hope in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and talks between India and Pakistan. In between there is a verbal duel between BJP’s Ashok Khjuria and NC Kafil-Ur-Rehman. As Mir starts concluding his almost 40 minutes long speech, Chief Minister, Law and Finance Ministers are back on their benches, so is an officer in the official gallery.
Congress’s Ashok Kumar takes over. “There is requirement of reconciliation and rehabilitation,” the lawmaker says. He says the issue of unmarked graves is humanitarian and not political. He wants a commission to look into it. NC’s Aijaz Ahmad Jan talks about Master Mumtz of his area who was detained and is missing with an enquiry still on. Insisting that there were such graveyards in his area as well and demands chief minister to announce a commission so that people get justice.
Congress’s Mohammad Sharief Niyaz said TRC should happen. He wants a holistic view of the issue that should take care of the people who have gone across and settled on the other side of the LoC. There are skeletons being recovered from forests. “There is requirement for a complete investigation from all angles,” he said.
It was Kafil-Ur-Rehman, NC’s Karnah MLA who stunned the house. “In our area there are so many gorges where there are many hundred skeletons,” he said. It was his reference to the two brothers who went out and never came back when he mentioned again: “There is a gorge that is 1000 ft deep and people have seen crows hovering around there.”
He says the “un-natural division” has led to a series of massacres in his area – 5000 people in one snowstorm and 4000 people in the wars of 1965 and 1971 and 6000 others who led in shelling for all these years. “But some people have taken the contract of exploiting the issues,” he said and ended by reciting the famous couplet about a victims plight of where he will trace his killer because the assassin has used the hand-glouse!!
Nazir Gurezi who represents another border belt talks about Mufti Sayeed’s appointment by Jogmohan who, he alleged, spearheaded massacres in Kashmir. Then he bashes Ms Mufti for praising Modi. He mentions the killing of six persons by Mufti’s guards and finally ends with the suggestion of a commission that will take care of things from 1990.
Panthers Party’s Harsh Dev Singh while expressing concern over the issue of unmarked mass graves said that the matter should be probed properly and truth must come out. “It seems we are playing politics over dead bodies,” he said. “It is a grave issue and we should see the other side of the picture as well.”
BJP’s Ashok Khajuria expressed concern and raised the issue of Kashmiri pundits who , he alleged, were brutally killed by the militants. He specially mentions Sarla Bhat, who, according to him was killed on a band saw. His speech was interrupted by many lawmakers from the treasury benches. “If you can listen from barrister Mehmood Choudhary, why cannot you listen to me,” Khajuria said. “You people are fed by India and you conspire against her.”
It was the turn of the chief minister Omar Abdullah to wind up the debate. He started with the attack on opposition, which he believes is raking up issues for scoring political points. “These graves belong to 1990-2006 era and we could have easily said that we are not contributors to it so we are not responsible but we cannot say that,” he said.
Omar talked about a “disinformation and misinformation” campaign that gives an impression as if Kashmir is Cambodia or Nazi Germany. Almost reprimanding his party men for ‘mixing up many issues’ and ‘creating problems’ by generating a wrong impression, Omar said there were no mass graves. He made a particular reference to Kafil-Ur-Rehman, a lawmaker from border area of Karnah. “You better go and inform the SHRC,” an angry Omar told Rehman when the latter started explaining his utterances.
“Let me make it clear there are no mass graves,” Omar said. “There are graves carrying one body each though in a few there are more than one body which have been buried as per the Islamic rites.” He said these are unmarked graves and that is not very different from whatever happens in the periphery where people usually avoid having tombstones.
Hundreds of people, Omar said, having gone across the LoC for training have settled there and the state government with MHA is making efforts to get the willing ones back. He maintained that a large number of disappeared persons are living normal lives across the border but they still exist as disappeared persons here. He said there might have been a number of persons who might have been killed in the training camp mishaps, which is normal even in regular military training academies.
Omar said every killing cannot be attributed to the security forces. Recently, some surrendered Hizb militants led the security forces to a forest where they had killed and buried two civilians and they were there for the last seven years. “We are holding security forces responsible for everything and we are condemning them well before they are proven guilty,” he asserted.
It was at the peak of his speech that chief minister reiterated that the recommendations made by the SHRC investigation on the unmarked graves issue would be implemented. The government cannot suppress the truth. “Families having their persons missing should go and lodge an FIR with our human right cell and deposit their DNA samples,” Omar said. “The families would have to help us indicating in which graveyard they suspect their member could be buried so that we will do the needful.” He, however, insisted that this cannot happen overnight.
Already, he said, work had started correlating the FIRs registered with the police with the graves. He termed the task difficult because there are many conflicting numbers about graves in circulation. He referred to Poonch where 2500 such graves are reported to exist. Police records suggest the security forces have killed 2136 militants in that area of whom 2090 are foreigners. “They are buried there but they are foreign militants,” Omar said.
He referred to the recent instance in Gurez where seven of the 14 militants, whose names are not known, where buried. “Right now, we know who are buried in Gurez but after 20 years these could become other unmarked graves,” he asserted. Militants from 12 countries, Omar said, including Russia, Chechnya, Sudan, Pakistan, Britain and Afghanistan have been killed in encounters in J&K and their graves do exist here.
Putting the death toll of civilians in the state since 1990 at 17000, Omar said the people have a right to seek answers about their loved ones. “There would be some uncomfortable questions but we have to respond to them,” Omar said.
On the utopian Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), Omar said it is possible only if India and Pakistan cooperate. “We need to know how many youth who had gone for training were killed while handling arms,” Omar said asking if Islamabad can ever offer details. “They pushed their regulars into Kargil and when they were killed they never identified them. How can they help in giving us these details now?”