Allegations of disappearances and custodial killings have crept into the Kashmir discourse along with the insurgency itself. But public allegations, howsoever credible, face a simple line of denial.
We have heard stories of presence of graveyards containing unidentified bodies in unmarked graves but it took a human rights organisation to make the world believe the horrendous stories of present Kashmir.
The International People’s Tribunal on Human Rights in Indian administered Kashmir (IPTK), a collective of human rights activists unravelled the presence of some 2700 unmarked graves in select villages in northern Kashmir, suggesting the presence of many more across the Valley.
IPTK is a collective of rights activist mainly supported by the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons Kashmir and its partner organisation Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society. The members include Angana P Chatterji an Indian origin professor of Anthropology at the California Institute of Integral Studies, rights activists and JKCCS members Parvez Imroz, Khurram Parvez, Zahir-Ud-Din, New Delhi based rights activist Gautam Navlakha and Mumbai based Supreme Court lawyer Mihir Desai.
Accusing Indian state of using discipline and death as techniques of social control in Kashmir, IPTK’s report asked the government to be transparent about the identities of people claimed to be killed in encounters with security agencies.
Earlier, in 2008, the APDP had unravelled the presence of some thousand unmarked individual and mass graves in northern Kashmir.
The APDP and IPTK links the presence of unmarked graves to the alleged 8000 enforced disappearances in Kashmir. It said the findings were only the tip of an iceberg, as it was limited only to 55 villages in three districts.
“If independent investigation were to be undertaken in all 10 districts, it is reasonable to assume that the 8000 + enforced disappearances would correlate with the number of bodies in, unknown, unmarked and mass graves.” The IPTK statement said.
The IPTK report Buried Evidence, documented the presence of many graves across northern Kashmir, whose presence has been known locally, but gain significance in the larger picture. The presence of such graves, betrays a pattern, which the report suggests, points to a design of violence and subjugation through fear.
“They (graves) are there and to be noticed, and to make us fear them (security personnel). We all know what they are, where they are, but we cannot say so. To speak of them is treasonous.” An unnamed grave digger quoted in the report said.
“Civilians killings are portrayed as encounter deaths to legitimise militarisation. Militarisation, in turn, is used to enable civilian killings,” the report states.
The report documents 2,700 unknown, unmarked, and mass graves, containing 2,943+ bodies, across 55 villages in Bandipora, Baramulla, and Kupwara districts of Kashmir, based on applied research conducted between November 2006-November 2009. Of these graves, 2,373 (87.9 percent) were unnamed, 154 contained two bodies each and 23 contained more than two cadavers. Within these 23 graves, the number of bodies ranged from 3 to 17.
The report also examines 50 alleged “encounter” killings by Indian security forces in numerous districts in Kashmir.
The report points out that exhumations, in whatever cases it has occurred, have the busted claims of security agencies by establishing the killed as local civilians.
The report quoted some bone chilling instances and quotes from witnesses or survivors like the account of Talib Hussain of Doda. Hussain and three others were cast into Chenab river by Village Defence Committee members. Hussain survived, while the bodies of other three were not found.
It also documents mass graves like one in Kanenar Kalarus in Bandipora where 17 bodies torched to death were placed together. All the 17 were torched to death in mortar shelling on huts in the vicinity of the grave itself and the extensively damaged bodies were buried on the direction of security personnel, the report says.
In most of the cases, the report says, unidentified bodies claimed to be of foreign militants were handed over to local grave diggers for burial by security personnel.
It is perhaps the first report that the JKCCS or its member organisation has formally submitted to the chief minister. The report also submitted to international watchdogs like Amnesty International and the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances has drawn some international attention to the problem.
Member of the British Parliament and Secretary All Parties Parliamentary Group on Kashmir, Paul Rowen, tabled an Early Day Motion (EDM) regarding the discovery of unnamed mass graves in the House of Commons. In addition to Rowen, other members of the Parliament including John Hemming, Brian Iddon, Lynne Jones and Peter Bottomley had signed the motion.
EDMs must have signatures of one hundred members before it can be presented for debate in the House of Commons.
Locally too it has triggered response from some unexpected quarters. Speaker of the Assembly, Mohammad Akbar Lone recently demanded a probe in the matter.
“If the report is submitted to me or a complaint is registered with me, I will ask the government to investigate it and submit the report,” Lone said.
While Congress legislator from Uri Taj Mohiudin denied any presence of such graves, NC legislator from Kupwara Mir Saifullah admitted the problem. “This is true. There are some such graveyards in my constituency,” Mir was quoted by a newspaper.