Grave issue

The reported discovery of 'mass graves' in north Kashmir must be investigated immediately.

A probe by the Special Investigation Team of the State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) has found 2,730 bodies buried in unmarked graves in 38 sites in Baramulla, Bandipore and Kupwara districts.

Of these 574 were identified by locals as their kin; 17 were shifted to their native graveyards. Most of the bodies have bullet injuries. In 18 graves there is more than one body. Twenty bodies are charred. Five skulls have been found. The report says that police had handed over the bodies to local villagers claiming them to be those of unidentified militants.

The SHRC report confirms what ordinary Kashmiris and human rights organisations have been alleging for almost two decades. Kashmiris who ‘disappeared’ in the course of the militancy were killed, perhaps executed and then quietly buried. In fact, organisations representing the families of ‘disappeared’ persons often provided evidence to prove that their missing kin were killed by security forces. But such allegations were routinely dismissed by the state as separatist propaganda.

The SHRC report may be a pointer to gross rights violations that take place in the name of counter-insurgency operations. Even if those who were killed were in fact militants, they should have been put to trial. It was for a court, not police or soldiers, to determine their punishment.

With the SHRC, a state-appointed body now providing damning evidence of mass killings in north Kashmir, the government is in a spot. Of course, the government can go into denial mode. It could claim that the bodies in the graves are of those killed by militants.

However, if it is at all interested in securing the trust and respect of the Kashmiri people it needs to set up an independent body of eminent people with unimpeachable credentials to probe the mass graves issue. The SHRC findings have the potential of igniting sentiments in the Valley.

India is now in the company of countries like Bosnia, Cambodia and Rwanda that gained notoriety for mass graves on their soil. It is a stain on India’s democracy. A probe followed by justice to the victims is important not only for India’s image but also to build peace in Jammu and Kashmir. In the absence of justice, lasting peace in Kashmir will remain a distant dream.

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