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18 June, 2010

Mass graves in Kashmir: a daring attempt to find the truth

The Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong, has forwarded a preliminary report of the International People’s Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in India-administered Kashmir with this introduction:

'Buried Evidence - 'Unknown, Unmarked, and Mass Graves in Indian-Administered Kashmir' (Dr. Angana Chatterji, Advocate Parvez Imroz et al.; The International People's Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in India-Administered Kashmir) is a unique and daring attempt to find the truth behind the disappearance and extrajudicial execution of persons in the Indian-administered Kashmir. The 108-page report challenges the defiance of the Indian government that has so far allowed the systematic persecution of the people of Kashmir with impunity, by what is known in international human rights law as a crime against humanity, and the government's subversive acts that have prevented every attempt to bring this to light.

The International People's Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Indian-administered Kashmir with the support of the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons have met and listened to hundreds of persons in Kashmir. The Tribunal received communications in confidence, many of which are reproduced in the report. The report includes a large array of recommendations to the stakeholders in Kashmir, including the government that must be acted upon.

While most of India and the rest of the world see the ongoing conflict in Kashmir as a security issue arising out of the shadow war for control over disputed territory fought between two neighbouring countries, India and Pakistan, the report throws light upon the daily reality of loss, pain and the continuing agony of the ordinary Kashmiris.

While little is known to the world about the Pakistan-administered Kashmir, for sure the Indian side of Kashmir has been for the past six decades the valley of death. There are thousands of ordinary people living in Kashmir who are confronted with the daily possibility of violent death at the hands of those whom the state refer to as 'security forces’.

Over the years, Kashmir has become an anomaly of beliefs. Here the protector has become the persecutor, safety implies silence, and honour is not a distant possibility even after death.

The rule of law that India and the state government of Kashmir have been promising to the people living in this part of the world does not apply to those who are stationed here to enforce the law. They abduct, rape, torture and kill at will, and justify it in the name of national security. Today, Kashmir has become the land of systematic state oppression. The mass graves, where mutilated and unidentified bodies are buried stands proof to this gruesome reality of life.

Thousands have lost their life in Kashmir at the hands of those the state has sent to protect. Their bodies are now mere heaps of gravel covering unidentified decomposed human remains found throughout Kashmir. It is normal to find such graves in public places. "Children ask us about these graves. Children ask us why soldiers are everywhere. Children grow up here thinking violent death is natural" (page 33). Mass graves are no more a phenomena that warrants secrecy in Kashmir. They are found near schools, play grounds and other public places. It is this normalcy of Kashmir that is frightening.

Yet like the unheard cry for dignity and justice that comes from these graves, the ordinary people of Kashmir have also refused to forget what has befallen upon them. "We learned that local communities across Kashmir insist on remembrance as practice of resistance. To forget, they say, would be to reconcile to injustice." (page 41). The report is a unique attempt to give voice to the voiceless of Kashmir.

"There they are, rows upon rows." (page 21). The report is an encouragement to similar attempts that could be conceived in Pakistan-administered Kashmir. It is an indicator to what a society may have to face in other places in India like Manipur where systematic militarisation in underway in the excuse of combating armed militancy.

The details available in the report shatter the false notion of mainstream Indian media that reporting on Kashmir is difficult.

The report in essence is the cry for help and an attempt to restore the honour of those who have been termed terrorists and anti-national to justify the brutal crime of the state.

"My son was killed in a fake encounter. Buried by the police as a 'Pakistani terrorist'. We want justice. We want his name restored. We want his memory healed." (page 9).

The question is will these cries be heard?

The report can be downloaded from the website of International People's Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Kashmir (IPTK).

The AHRC wishes to express our sincere gratitude to the Tribunal for granting permission to forward the report with the above introduction.