For the families of the disappeared there can be nothing more cruel and inhuman than to be waiting for the missing one. Sameer Yasir looks at the tragedy through a mother who died waiting and looking for her disappeared son.
In early October 2000, Javid Ahmad Najar, a carpenter in his early twenties, left his house in Banglow Bagh, Baramulla to buy milk from a neighboring shop. Javid, a lean man with a short well kept beard, told his aging mother, Aziza, that he would return in ten minutes from a nearby market. That was 12 years ago. He never returned.
Last June, Javid’s mother Aziza died after a brief illness. She had waited and searched for 12 long and painful years for her son to return. She searched every unmarked graveyard in North Kashmir and talked to gravediggers for clues.
Javid’s pictures fill the white washed walls of Aziza’s mud house in a congested neighborhood in Baramulla. He looked a handsome boy, always posing with one foot ahead of the other in the photographs.
Three months before she died I asked Aziza if she still believed her son was alive. She said she “knew he is buried in one of those unmarked graves.”
But since there was no proof, she wanted to keep up her efforts to look for him.
In early December 2009, International tribunal on Human Rights and Justice (IPTK), published a report “Buried Evidence” detailing the existence of 2,700 unmarked graves in three districts of Kashmir.
Khuram Parvez is the Liaison officer of the (IPTK), he spoke with passion when I met him in Srinagar. He was part of the team which helped the State Human Right Commission to document these graves. He says people don’t trust the institutions of the state because of a credibility crisis. “There was a time when Kashmiri people were scared of approaching state institutions. We went with open mind used the state structure and proved that it didn’t work. We knew that justice won’t be dispensed by them but at least our efforts led to the documentation, which was not available.”
He believes that the Kashmiri people always used to “curse” international NGOs and rights groups for not talking about the issues of human rights but it was largely because of the non-availability of the documentation. “We knew that the torture had taken place but there were no testimonies, no proper documentations of it.”
When the State Human Rights Commission started investigating unmarked graves in Bandipora, Baramulla, Kupwara, and Handwara, it found, in 38 graveyards 2,156 unidentified bodies in unidentified graves. It was a vindication also for the people associated with the IPTK who were condemned for their earlier efforts.
In October last year, I traveled to Tchehal, Bimyar a village in Uri, which is one of the biggest sites of the unmarked graves. In a tiny mud-and-brick house, I met Atta Mohammad, a 69-year-old farmer who had buried more than 230 dead bodies that the police brought to his village for burial.
For Atta, silence of dark evenings brings back gruesome memories of all those mutilated faces he put six feet underground.
He told me that all the bodies were delivered to him by the police. After some initial inquiry about the credentials of the dead, he had stopped asking questions.
After a lot of insistence, he had agreed with much reluctance to talk and took me to the graveyard. It has been months since he had visited the place. He said, he doesn’t go there often as it reminds him of all the gore he has witnessed.
The graveyard on a mountainside is a remote lonely spot surrounded by steep mountains around it and by the side of the road there are series of broken earth and mounds of earth it wouldn’t even look like a graveyard.
Waheed Mirza in his powerful novel, The Collaborator writes “these look like sad, mournful dunes of mud basically, like faceless sleeping ghosts. Mounds that speak of abandon through every wart on the heaped earth.”
When Atta Mohammad Khan spoke on the record before the State Human Rights Commission in Srinagar, about burying the bodies from 2002 to 2006. There was silence in the room and every one listening was numbed.
Khan had also told the IPTK that the bodies have appeared in his nightmares.
“My nights are tormented and I cannot sleep, the bodies and graves appear and reappear in my dreams,” he told the investigators. “I have tried to remember all this … the sound of the earth as I covered the graves … bodies and faces that were mutilated … mothers who would never find their sons. My memory is an obligation. My memory is my contribution. I am tired, I am so very tired,” he said.
The last year’s discovery has underscored the conflict’s human toll. The uncovering and documenting of these unmarked graves after a three-year inquiry, led by a senior police official, was the first official statement confirming the existence of the unmarked graves. Investigators spoke to former police officials, village heads, clerics, gravediggers and cemetery caretakers.
It raised some important questions in Kashmir’s 20 years long brutal war that who these people buried inside these graves were. Were they all foreign militants as the police and state government would like people to believe or there were people also who were killed in fake encounters and then their faces mutilated so that the identity won’t be revealed. The inquiry wrote in its report that “At 38 places visited in north Kashmir, there were 2,156 unidentified dead bodies buried in unmarked graves,”
For the moment no one knows the identity of the buried because there has been no official attempt for conducting DNA test of these people. Although Chief Minster Omar Abdullah said that he would like to find out through the DNA testing who these people were. But it only remained, like many other things in Kashmir, a statement confined for the Newspapers.
Khuram Parvez says “Government of India always says that our institution is working. So there is no need of external agencies. We had thought about it and with planed strategy we exposed the state structure were defunct. We have been demanding this but we have never been able to show that these institutions were not just incapable but they did not enjoy any credibility. But at least we used them to preserve our memory: which did not exist.”
It was the biggest story of the last two decades of conflict in Kashmir. Its significance and importance caught the attention of people through out the world.
The Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons, which estimates around 10,000 people have gone missing in the past 20 years, says many may have ended up in these unmarked graves. “We appeal to international human rights groups and Indian authorities to identify the people buried,” said Parveena Ahanger, who heads the split away faction of the group.
After some months of the SHRC acknowledged the graves there was another allegation. This time from remote districts of Rajouri and Poonch. The human rights commission wanted to broaden the investigation into the unmarked graves to include two more districts, which according to locals had more than 3,800 unmarked graves at 208 locations.
The commission had later asked the government to provide any information they had on these graves. But since the state human rights commission is without a chairman there was no effort to speed up the investigation. This once again proved that the institutions of the state have failed to deliver justice.
Khuram says their report on the mass graves was a step forward “because from the last 20 years the debate was confined to the human rights but nothing was substantial or documented. The documentation is important and if it has to be by being using the institutions of state it gets more credibility. But whatever we saw by using the institutions is clear indication that these structures have failed to dispense justice leave aside having an impact on the policy makers.
These graves even found a pertinent mention even in literature. Author Waheed Mirza’s novel, The Collaborator’s, nameless narrator contemplates “ I am aware that these bodies, these remains of our ‘disappeared’ boys, might serve as evidence one day…for someone to make a shocking discovery…for someone to write a front-page story…for someone to order a judicial inquiry. But then who actually cares or does anything in the end? No one is ever punished here. It will only ever be a story”.
For the moment it has only remained a story to be discussed in the public but someday it might find an attention when the people in the corridors of power would finally pay attention to the most important developing story of the two decades of war in Kashmir. Aziza never met her son and her wish even at the deathbed never materialized. There are thousands of mothers, sisters and wives in Kashmir waiting for their loved ones to return whose fate might end up like that of Aziza.
That may be the reason Rouf Ahmad Javid’s bother still believes that his disappeared brother might be in one of these graves somewhere. “Even if he is not I want to know were he is buried and take his skeleton to our graveyard.”