South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

By Sajjad Shaukat

During the Bosnian War (1992–1995), Serb forces slaughtered more than 10,000 Muslims in Bosnia and Herzegovina and buried them in the unamed mass graves. The ethnic leansing campaign of the state eliminators continued throughout areas controlled by the Serb Army. That genocide was repeated in Kosovo where several men and women were massacred and buried in a field.

The memory of the Serb atrocities has still been fresh in the minds of the Muslims, while India’s state eliminators have followed the same practice in the Indian-occupied Kashmir, in the worse form of state terrorism. In 2008, a rights group reported unmarked graves in 55 villages across the northern regions of Baramulla, Bandipore and Handwara. Then researchers and other groups reported finding thousands of single and mass graves without markers. In this regard, in the last few years, rights groups discovered nearly 3,000 unnamed graves in the various districts of Kashmir.

Even Indian inquiry completed in July 2011 and obtained on August 21, 2011 by the Associated Press endorsed that graves in Kashmir hold unidentified bodies, though correct figures were concealed. After widespread allegations of human rights abuses in the Indian-held Kashmir by the army, paramilitary and police, a commission was set up in 1997. However, Indian Jammu and Kashmir State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) has officially acknowledged in its report that innocent civilians killed in the two-decade conflict may have been buried in unmarked graves. According to the report, “Hundreds of unmarked graves in Kashmir hold more than 2,000 bullet-riddled bodies that may include innocent victims, despite police claims that they were militants fighting Indian rule in the disputed Himalayan territory.”

The report indicates, “2,156 unidentified bodies were found in mass graves in three northern mountainous regions, while 574 other bodies were found in the graves have been identified as local residents.” The probe said it noted 851 unknown bodies in Baramulla, 14 in Bandipore, 14 in Handwara and 1277 in Kupwara.

The report also confirmed that few bodies were defaced, 20 were charred, five only had skulls remaining and there were at least 18 graves with more than one body each.

Before this admission, Indian high officials have been emphasising that all these bodies were of militant fighters—claimed by police when they were handed over to villages for burial.

Rights groups have pointed out that more than 8,000 people have disappeared, and accused government forces of staging fake gunbattles to cover up killings. The groups also said that suspected rebels have been arrested and never heard from again.

It is mentionable that Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP), which in March 2008 released a report, titled, “Facts Underground”, had indicated the presence of unidentified graves. The APDP, which estimates around 10,000 people went missing during last two decades, says “many missing people may have ended up in these unmarked graves.”

In December 2009, another human rights group, the International People’s Tribunal on Human Rights, had released a report claiming that unmarked graveyards “entomb bodies of those, murdered in fake encounters and arbitrary executions.”

After India’s verification of the unmarked graves, on August 23 this year, Amnesty International said that the investigation of graves in three regions also needs to be widened to the entire Indian-held portion of Kashmir. It insisted, “All unmarked grave sites must be secured and investigations carried out by impartial forensic experts.”

The fact of the matter is that since 1989 when movement of liberation in the Indian-held Kashmir intensified, more than 70,000 people have been killed by Indian forces and police. India’s state eliminators employed various techniques of ethnic cleansing such as unlawful confinement, kidnapping, sieges, curfews, shelling of civilians, the destruction of homes and mosques, rape, torture, beating etc. And these inhuman methods contunued till the death of innocent Kashmiris. Besides, a number of unarmed individutals were killed by the Indian military, para-military troops and police in the fake encounters. So unnamed graves include a majority of those Kashmiris who were tortured to death by the security forces or directly killed by the Indian secret agency RAW.

It is notable that on June 28, 2010, BBC reported, “three men went missing in Indian-administered Kashmir in April…nothing extraordinary about that, but some time later their bodies were discovered near the Line of Control…a senior officer of the Indian army had kidnapped them by offering them jobs as porters. The troops later informed the police that they had killed three militants. Kashmir’s law minister, Ali Mohammad Sagar says there have been several proven cases of fake encounters in the past 20 years.”

BBC explained, “There are hardliners in the Indian Army and intelligence agencies, who think that by raising the bogey of infiltration and gun battles near the border they can create terror among people and also put pressure on Pakistan.”

In July this year, Nazim Rashid, an old shopkeeper, died after being detained by counter-insurgency police in the northern town of Sopore in Kashmir in connection with an unsolved murder. The cause of his death was not disclosed, but it resulted in a one-day strike across the Indian-controlled Kashmir and promised from Chief Minister Omar Abdullah of exemplary action. On August 9, some policemen and an army officer were arrested for investigations into the death of a man in custody or in a faked gunbattle.

Over the 20 years of violence in Jammu and Kashmir, Human Rights Watch has documented numerous failures to ensure protection of human rights. It has called for the repeal of laws such as the Jammu and Kashmir Disturbed Areas Act, the Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act and the Public Safety Act. These laws provide the armed forces with extraordinary powers to search, detain, and use lethal force, leading to numerous human rights violations. They also provide immunity for security forces. Prosecutions of security force personnel, even where the facts are well established, are rare.

While in its various reports, Amnesty International has also pointed out grave human rights violations in the Indian occupied Kashmir by indicating: “The Indian government’s disregard for human rights in Jammu and Kashmir means that in practice, people reportedly died in custody and the whereabouts of the disappeared persons continue to be unknown…government forces continue to commit serious violations of humanitarian law…the Muslim majority population in the Kashmir Valley suffers from the repressive tactics of the security forces. Under the Jammu and Kashmir Disturbed Areas Act, and the Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act, security forces personnel have extraordinary powers including authority to shoot suspected lawbreakers, and to destroy structures suspected of harboring militants or arms.”

In the recent past, WikiLeaks have also pointed out the involvement of Indian Army in extrajudicial killings and other gross human rights violations in the Jammu and Kashmir. The related-cable has urged the US to secretly divert UN attention towards the genocide of innocent civilians at the hands of Indian forces.

It seems that non-condemnation of these Indian acts of massive human rights violations by the so-called civilized international community has further encouraged New Delhi to step-up its brutalities on the armless Kashmiri masses. Indian authorities are not willing to talk with Kashmiri people on political grounds. India perhaps reached to a conclusion that only bullet is the right way of dealing with Kashmiris, demanding their right of self-determination. Surprisingly, Indian successive governments are trying to ignore the dynamics of the Kashmiris movement for the freedom from the Indian alien rule.

There can be no lasting political settlement in Kashmir unless human rights abuses that have fueled the ongoing uprising are addressed. Nonetheless, there has been no policy change in the repressive activities of Indian security forces as these state eliminators continue human rights violations in Kashmir unabated. So more unnamed graves could be discovered from the Indian-held Kashmir in furture.

Sajjad Shaukat writes on international affairs and is author of the book: US vs Islamic Militants, Invisible Balance of Power: Dangerous Shift in International Relations

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