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Home > Human Rights > India - Kashmir : Time to face the ugly truth

India - Kashmir : Time to face the ugly truth

20 October 2011

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The Times of India

by Sameer Arshad | Oct 19, 2011

Perhaps the scale of wrongs in the Valley has reached a level where even the discovery of 2,500 unmarked graves in north Kashmir doesn’t truly provoke outrage as it should. This discovery is the first official confirmation of what the rights activists have been saying for years - but beyond that, it is the same old story of denial.

Officials made some right noises by talking about DNA profiling, but also in the same breath suggested that alleged militants and infiltrators killed in ’encounters’ may be buried in these graves across 38 villages. Slain mercenaries may indeed be buried there, but the ’encounter’ argument cannot explain the sheer number of these graves. The theory also flies in the face of the facts that have emerged in the last decade about many of these alleged extra-judicial killings in the name of encounters.

It began with the infamous Pathribal ’encounter’ when five innocent men were picked up, shot dead and burnt beyond re-cognition in a staged encounter. They were then dubbed foreign terrorists "who had massacred Sikhs" in Chattisinghpora on the eve of US President Bill Clinton’s visit to India in March 2000. They were buried in a similar unmarked mass grave in a forested area in south Kashmir.

Five soldiers, including a bri- gadier, were charged for the killings but their trial never began due to the blanket immunity they enjoy under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). Six years later, a carpenter was lured with a job promise, taken to a central Kashmir forest and shot in the face to make his identification impossible, then dubbed a Pakistani terrorist from Multan. He was also buried in an unmarked grave and his killers were rewarded around Rs 1.5 lakh for the ’kill’, an official policy that encourages such killings.

Several such cases have come to light recently. Last year’s summer agitation that killed over 110 people started after three youth were lured with the promise of jobs and handed over to an army unit that staged their encounter along the Line of Control for rewards and promotions. The three were again branded as Pakistani terrorists and quietly buried. Earlier, a 70-year-old mentally disabled man was killed in cold blood and then dubbed as the ’oldest terrorist’ killed in Kashmir ever. This year too, an eerily similar ’encounter’ saw a young, mentally disabled man killed in another staged encounter in Rajouri and dubbed a Pakistani terrorist for material gains. Thus, people have ample reasons to be sceptical about the reasons sought to be given to explain the shocking discovery.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Hundreds of other youth, who have disappeared in custody in the last two decades, may also be lying dead in these graves. Their families have every reason to fear this because there is now independent confirmation of the existence of illegal torture centres, where many of them may have been tortured to death.

A leaked US diplomatic cable attested to these fears. It revealed that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) had in 2005 secretly briefed Delhi-based American diplomats about these torture centres. The cable revealed that the ICRC had briefed the diplomats about systematic abuse such as electrocution, beatings and sexual humiliation of the detainees at these centres. It reported the ICRC’s frustration with New Delhi’s failure to halt continued ill treatment of the detainees. It noted that humanitarian organisations accused New Delhi of condoning torture and that the victims were civilians, as militants were generally killed.

The ICRC staff visited detention centres 177 times between 2002 and 2004. They met 1,491 detainees and interviewed 1,296 of them privately; the prisoners revealed that they were given electric shocks, suspended from the ceiling and had their leg muscles crushed as their interrogators would sit on bars placed across their thighs. About 302 of them said they were sexually tortured while 234 reported water was used to torture them. The cable noted that the staff had reported 300 such detention centres in 2000 and were unable to access the Cargo Building, Srinagar’s most notorious detention centre.

The policy of denial that has been the hallmark of the Kashmir policy since the 1990s has become untenable in the face of such shocking facts. Can a democracy tolerate these summary executions and torture centres and expect that the complete disregard of human rights will not cause upheavals of the kind we have seen in the past three years? It is about time the government seriously considered the genuine demand for the revocation of the AFSPA and rollback of the policy of rewarding ’kills’. The Valley will continue to seethe as long as there is a collective sense of the denial of justice that these unmarked graves represent.

Status quo is no longer an option and Kashmiris, as the principal sufferers of the decades old hostilities, have to find closure. There can be no headway as long as they are denied justice. Perhaps the first step in this direction could be coming out of denial and at least starting a process to identify these unidentified victims of Kashmir’s war, allowing their families to arrange decent burials for them.

The discovery has certainly opened many wounds, but also presents an opportunity for making amends: A course correction and the much-needed healing touch.

P.S.

The above article from The Times of India is reproduced here for educational and non commercial use