Mass graves in Kashmir: Skeletons in India’s closet

Views from Srinagar

Hasnat Sheikh

I 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 devastating 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.
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