Mass graves in Kash­mir: Skele­tons in In­dia’s closet

Views from Srinagar

Pakistan Observer - - KASHMIR -

HASNAT SHEIKH have been ter­ror­ized by this task that was forced upon me. My nights are tor­mented and I can­not sleep, the bodies and graves ap­pear and reap­pear in my dreams. My heart is weak from this labour. 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,” said Atta Muham­mad, a grave dig­ger, 68 years of age, liv­ing in Bara­mulla dis­trict of In­dian oc­cu­pied Kash­mir. Atta tes­ti­fied to bury­ing 203 bodies, on a hill­side slope near the Jhelum river, just be­tween 2002-2006.

These man­han­dled bodies, usu­ally civil­ians who be­come un­for­tu­nate tar­gets of the In­dian se­cu­rity forces ag­gres­sion, were trans­ported to him af­ter dark. But this was not a sin­gle un­for­tu­nate and iso­lated case. Ac­cord­ing to a re­port by the ‘In­ter­na­tional Peo­ple’s Tri­bunal on Hu­man Rights and Jus­tice in In­dian-ad­min­is­tered Kash­mir’ (IPTK) there was a to­tal of 2700 such graves merely in the three dis­tricts: Bara­mulla, Bandi­pora and Kup­wara. These 2700 graves con­tained more than 2943 bodies, where nearly 88% of the graves, 2373 in num­ber, were left un­marked.

These mass graves are an open se­cret in the In­dian oc­cu­pied ter­ri­tory, where the se­cu­rity forces use them as ter­ror tools to in­tim­i­date and con­trol the pop­u­la­tion of Jammu & Kash­mir. For this pur­pose, they em­ploy lo­cal grave dig­gers and care tak­ers to play out this psy­cho­log­i­cally

Idev­as­tat­ing and grue­some role of in­hu­ma­tion of the oft mu­ti­lated and dam­aged corpses. Knowl­edge of these graves would spread by word of mouth from one vil­lage to an­other, dis­sem­i­nat­ing and cir­cu­lat­ing hor­ror and fear of death among the peo­ple. Thus, sys­tem­at­i­cally at­tempt­ing to de­velop an en­vi­ron­ment re­flect­ing an ‘open air prison’.

The bodies or ca­dav­ers de­liv­ered by the se­cu­rity forces are claimed to be mil­i­tants, that have been killed in ‘en­coun­ters’. An ex­am­ple of such a case from 29th of April 2007, where the In­dian se­cu­rity forces claimed to have killed four ‘Pak­istani ter­ror­ists’.

Three of the four al­leged ter­ror­ists were buried at Sedar­pora Vil­lage in Kup­wara. The in­dian forces iden­ti­fied them as Abu-Safayan, Abu-Hafiz, Abu-Sadiq and Abu-Ashraf. But through later in­ves­ti­ga­tion, the bodies were iden­ti­fied as Reyaz Ah­mad Bhat, Man­zoor Ah­mad Wa­gay, and Sar­taj Ah­mad Ganai. Sar­taj had joined mil­i­tancy on 1st of April, whereas Reyaz and Man­zoor were in­no­cent civil­ians, the fourth body could not be iden­ti­fied.

In yet an­other sim­i­lar case on 7th March 2006, Ali Muham­mad Pader- a ju­nior em­ployee in the ru­ral de­vel­op­ment de­part­ment was re­ported to be a Pak­istani mil­i­tant called ‘Sha­heen Bhai’. The body was ex­humed in Fe­bu­rary 2007, and rec­og­nized ac­cord­ing to its real iden­tity. A civil­ian at­tend­ing his fu­neral prayer re­ported to the IPTK that his face had been mu­ti­lated and eyes were gouged out. It seemed as if they had fired bul­lets in his head and his body had been brought into con­tact with ex­plo­sives. In some cases of mu­ti­la­tion eye wit­nesses re­ported that the army used to tie dead bodies to ve­hi­cles and drag them down hilly ar­eas, mak­ing it al­most im­pos­si­ble to rec­og­nize or iden­tify them.

From 1989-2009, the In­dian forces in Kash­mir have caused more than 8000 en­forced dis­ap­pear­ances and more than 70,000 deaths, by extra ju­di­cial killings, cus­to­dial bru­tal­ity and other means, ac­cord­ing to the IPTK. It is plau­si­ble to con­sider the to­tal num­ber of dis­ap­pear­ances since 1989, in pro­por­tion or cor­re­la­tion to these un­marked mass graves.

How­ever, the lo­cals have also tes­ti­fied to dead bodies be­ing thrown in to the Jhelum and Chenab rivers, the po­lice fails to take ac­tion on such com­plaints. Some bodies have been re­trieved by the lo­cals and buried in their own com­mu­nity grave yards. In this sit­u­a­tion, where bodies are be­ing dis­carded in vary­ing covert ways, the ac­tual body count would be far greater than the amount re­ported.

The In­dian forces in the oc­cu­pied ter­ri­tory, en­joy such im­mu­nity that they are al­most never pun­ished for their ha­rass­ment and vi­o­lence against the Kash­miri pub­lic. Even those in­volved in these so called ‘en­coun­ters’ have been granted pro­mo­tions in their re­spec­tive or­ga­ni­za­tions.

The dread­ful and in­hu­mane Armed Forces Spe­cial Pow­ers Act (AFSPA) ex­empts the forces from ac­count­abil­ity against their ac­tions on the lo­cals when­ever they seem “nec­es­sary”.

Un­der sec­tion 4 of AFSPA, any com­mis­sioned of­fi­cer, war­rant of­fi­cer, non-com­mis­sioned of­fi­cer or any per­son of equiv­a­lent rank in the armed forces is granted the right to “fire upon or oth­er­wise use force, even to the caus­ing of death, against any per­son who is act­ing in con­tra­ven­tion of any law or the or­der, if he is of the opin­ion that it is nec­es­sary to do so for the main­te­nance of pub­lic or­der, af­ter giv­ing such due warn­ing as he may con­sider nec­es­sary.”

This piece of poi­sonous leg­is­la­tion has been aptly de­scribed as a “Li­cense to kill” for the men­tally ill In­dian forces, where in Kash­mir only 169 sol­diers them­selves com­mit­ted suicide from Jan­uary 2002 to Septem­ber 2009. Hu­man Rights Watch has pointed out that this law is in con­tra­ven­tion to Ar­ti­cles 14, 21 and 22 of the In­dian con­sti­tu­tion it­self.

Gov­ern­ment Com­mit­tees of In­dia have de­clared that a ‘low in­ten­sity war’ con­tin­ues in Kash­mir, they use this as an ex­cuse to main­tain their troop level in the most mil­i­ta­rized oc­cu­pa­tion of the world. The In­dian Armed forces, the Po­lice, other se­cu­rity forces along with the ‘Vil­lage de­fense com­mit­tees’, made op­er­a­tional by the se­cu­rity forces, and the state spon­sored mil­i­tants ‘ikhwans’ have de­vel­oped a sys­tem­atic in­sti­tu­tion­al­ized process of mas­sacre of the Kash­miri peo­ple.

Even the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment passed a res­o­lu­tion against the grave is­sue in Kash­mir, press­ing for an in­ves­ti­ga­tion, how­ever, in­stead of a proper in­ves­ti­ga­tion on these crimes, the ac­tivists work­ing on them were harassed, threat­ened and tar­geted.

These mass graves are be­ing used as in­stru­ments of hor­rific op­pres­sion and con­trol. These tools of mas­sacre must be in­quired into, and the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity should be urged to end the im­punity of the In­dian State, on these crimes against hu­man­ity.

The United Na­tion’s Mil­i­tary Ob­servers Group in In­dia and Pak­istan UNMOGIP, should be em­pow­ered to in­quire into such cases and make bind­ing rec­om­men­da­tions re­gard­ing the state of mil­i­ta­riza­tion of In­dian Oc­cu­pied Jammu and Kash­mir. It is also the im­per­a­tive duty of Pak­istan, to urge the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity to pres­sure the world’s ‘largest democ­racy’ to end its hypocrisy. Every na­tion of the world, that be­lieves in the ideals of free­dom, democ­racy and peace must con­demn the de­nial of fun­da­men­tal hu­man rights to the Kash­miris and the In­dian gov­ern­ment’s hypocrisy. —Email

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