SRINAGAR, Sept 8: In Kashmir, the bones of the dead continue to work their way to the surface and into the prevailing political discourse.
There is an increasing clamour by families of missing persons, for identification of the thousands buried in unmarked graves around the state.
They say these dead are their loved ones subjected to enforced disappearance after being picked up by the security agencies and in some cases even by militants.
Recently, members of the Association of the Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) submitted 507 documented cases of the disappeared people from North Kashmir districts of Baramulla and Bandipora to the State Human Rights Commission (SHRC), seeking to know their whereabouts “through available means of investigation like DNA testing and other forensic methods”.
The families have identified an array of agencies responsible for these disappearances. These include Army, BSF, CRPF, J&K Police, unknown agencies, pro-government gunmen, unidentified gunmen and militants. Among the 507 cases, militants are responsible for 18 disappearances and security agencies which top the chart account for 179 disappearances.
The petition has created a tricky situation for the government which has put the onus of identifying the graves of missing on their families.
The government’s position is that it doesn’t know the whereabouts of the missing. In his Assembly speech last year Chief Minister Omar Abdullah tried hard that the blame for these killings was apportioned among a wide array of the agents of death in Kashmir: the encounters on the border during infiltration, people losing their lives in the course of arms training and killings by the militants.
And recently in its 27-page report to the SHRC, state government sought the closure of the case on disappearances, promising its investigation in future by a yet to be constituted Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
But for the families of missing, this is an attempt to subvert the delivery of justice. They contend and with valid reason that the state agencies responsible for the disappearances should know where they are. If nothing else, they want the government to fix the responsibility and punish the guilty.
Justice, they say, should precede the reconciliation.
The egregiousness of the exercise of justice in this case, however, is not lost on anybody. Number of missing in the state, according to civil liberties group Coalition of Civil Society, is upwards of 8000 people while the government’s figures have varied wildly over the years: from 113 to 4000 cases.
But if there are 507 documented cases from two districts of Bandipora and Baramulla, one can only imagine the combined number of the disappearances in the 14 districts of the state.
The literal justice would involve the documentation of all the missing cases in J&K and disinterring of the bodies in the thousands of unmarked graves scattered across the state to match the DNA profiles and then pinning the responsibility for these atrocities.
In the government’s opinion there is little scope for the literal justice in all the cases of disappearances. The unmarked graves are seen as part of the history of the turbulent past two decades and, therefore, any attempt to deliver justice besides being a fraught issue in itself is apprehended to revive the disconcerting memory of the conflict.
But families of the missing still need closure and this can’t happen with government refusing to confront the issue or seeking to leave it for investigation by Truth and Reconciliation Commission whose constitution itself is still a matter of debate.
(Riyaz Wani is special correspondent with Tehelka magazine)