Author: Saadut
•6:19 PM

Recently the Jammu and Kashmir State Human Rights Commission released a report 'Inquiry Report of Unmarked Graves in North Kashmir' wherein the SHRC has confirmed presence of 21,56 unidentified bodies at 38 sites in north Kashmir's Baramulla, Bandipora, Handwara and Kupwara districts. The investigation was conducted by an 11-member SIT under the supervision of an SSP from the investigative wing of the SHRC, for over 3 years. For long there have been accusations by civil rights groups against the Indian security forces in Kashmir for killing civilians in fake encounters and then claiming them to be militants.

The SHRC inquiry was initiated after they took suo-moto cognizance of media reports and repeated claims by civil rights groups including Amnesty International about the presence of unmarked ‘mass graves’ in Kashmir. According to the SHRC report there were 21 unmarked graves in Baramulla, 11 in Kupwara, 3 in Bandipore and 3 in Handwara areas of north Kashmir. As per the report all of these dead bodies had bullet injuries and had been handed over by the police to the local population for burial, classifying them as unidentified militants. It has been reported that of the dead a few bodies were defaced, five only had skulls remaining and there were at least 18 graves with more than one cadaver inside them. Of the more than 2000 bodies buried in these mass graves in north Kashmir (reports says that there are about 2730 bodies in these north Kashmir graves) 574 had been identified as local residents by their kin and out of them 17 have been shifted to their native graveyards, while 2156 bodies remain yet unidentified.  

The report further says “There is every probability that these unidentified dead bodies buried in various unmarked graves at 38 places of North Kashmir may contain the dead bodies of enforced disappearances,” The report said the government did not account for 1,692 bodies.

However as per the APDP (Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons) around 10,000 have gone missing during the two decades of conflict pointing out that most of them went missing in custody, many of whom may have been buried in these unmarked mass graves. The APDP is an association of people whose kith and kin disappeared during the turmoil years, most of the family members claiming that their loved ones were picked up the security forces never to be seen again. The APDP had released a report in 2008 called “Facts Underground” where it had mentioned about the presence of unmarked graves in Kashmir.

The SHRC report further calls for probing of these mass graves by an ‘impartial agency’, “A proper FIR should be registered keeping in view the claims and investigated thoroughly by an impartial agency — not only in north Kashmir but across the state wherever such unmarked graves exist”

The reports about these unidentified mass graves is bound to create more distrust and cynicism among the local population who have been viewing the state government with pessimism. There have been further suggestions that DNA profiling be conducted on the dead bodies in these mass graves to match the relatives of the missing persons of Kashmir. The commission report further says that “The scope for DNA extraction is still very bright. As time goes, chances will be dim,”

The missing of Kashmir have been facing a strange identity crisis ‘neither dead nor alive’. Since there has been no trace of the missing for decades, no response from the government or the agencies that are accused of picking them up, it is hard to presume if they are alive or dead and it is their families often who bear the brunt of maximum agony. Wives of such men live lives of ‘half widows’ who know not if their husbands are living or dead and the children of such missing men keep searching for their fathers, most of these youth would have been toddlers when their fathers were subject to enforced disappearance. 

           Again in September 2011, the SHRC recommended investigation by an independent "representative structured". The SHRC bench recommended "An independent duly representative structured body having due credibility and weight, fully empowered to go in (to) all questions (and) aspects regarding unmarked graves, disappeared persons ... be constituted and put in place in time”. 

Skepticism about Justice 

However owing to past experiences people on the ground are skeptical about the any moves by the govt to unravel the whole truth and provide them justice: such skepticism is not unfounded. May be recalled in 25th March 2000, Indian security forces claimed to have killed five "foreign militants" in Pathribal area of Anantnag District in south Kashmir. Officials then had claimed that security forces had after a gun fight blown up the hut where the men were hiding. The bodies charred beyond recognition were soon buried without any postmortem examination. Locals soon pointed out that the killed were innocent civilians and protests flared up seeking exhumation of bodies and identification of killed. After many protestors had been killed and injured in police action in Anantnag, the state government ordered an investigation about the Pathribal killings. DNA samples from the five bodies were sent for medical examination to forensic laboratories. However it was discovered in March 2002 that the DNA samples of Pathribal victims had been tampered with and the lab DNA samples were found to be of females instead of the five men killed at Pathribal. After the DNA fudging controversy fresh samples were collected and with these fresh DNA samples it was proved that the five killed were in fact innocent civilians. In January 2003 the case was handed to the CBI by the state government. The CBI investigation alleged that officials of 7 Rashtriya Rifles had in fact staged the fake encounter wherein they had killed the five innocent civilians and later on labeled them as “foreign militants”. In spite of a proven case against the officials, till date no action ahs been taken against them and justice has eluded the Pathribal victims.

In another incident in April 2010 a defense spokesman in Srinagar had claimed that troops had gunned down three infiltrators in the Machil sector of north Kashmir on 30th April. Meanwhile locals in Nadihal village of north Kashmir Sopore had already been protesting seeking the whereabouts of three missing youth Shahzad Ahmad, Riyaz Ahmad and Mohammad Shafi. After protests had erupted and the news of missing youth became public, a magisterial probe was ordered by the government, bodies were exhumed and it was established that the killed were innocent civilians who had been killed by security force officials in fake encounter for career advancement, medals and monetary rewards associated with killing militants in Kashmir.

In September this year Chief Minister Omar Abdullah in a TV interview said “There are cases that have seriously embarrassed us and put us on the defensive. Pathribal is one of them and unfortunately Machil is developing into another one. The reluctance of the defense establishments to be seen to be taking action on what clearly are the cases of human rights violations is something I am unable to paddle”. Paradoxically Chief Minister is the head of ‘unified command’ which consists of arms of the same defense establishment:  top brass of army, paramilitary forces, state police and Intelligence Bureau. So where does the buck really stop?

More unidentified graves

Meanwhile in another development the SHRC has taken cognizance of an application filed by the APDP (Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons), which claimed existence of more mass, unidentified graves in J&K, as per APDP application there are over 3,844 unmarked graves at 208 sites in Poonch and Rajouri districts of J&K.

Now news of 2500 unidentified more unidentified graves was coming from Poonch district, all buried by a lone 90 year old grave digger. According to statements given by the 90 year old Sofi Aziz Joo to a media correspondent, the bullet ridden bodies were handed to him by the police or army and many times these bodies were without limbs, some of these bodies were mutilated beyond recognition. In a single incident Sofi Aziz Joo recalls 16 bodies were buried in a single grave, and according to him all these burials were conducted without the involvement of locals for fear of protests. Incidentally the graveyard is close to the army garrison.

How many more unmarked, mass graves wait to be unraveled in Kashmir and how many civilians subject to enforced disappearance are lying in these graves only time will tell? Till the time justice remains elusive, the families of these disappeared will keep searching for the whereabouts of their loved ones. 

But in the unending desolation of these graveyards in Kashmir the search for that one ray of hope continues, a quest for truth against all state enforced barricades.

Hope never dies.

30th September 2011

Author: Saadut
•11:15 AM

Anna Hazare came to Delhi, protested, fasted, drew supporting crowds and got the government to talk about corruption; while Kashmir looked on. For quite some time Kashmir has been maintaining top slots on the ‘most corrupt’ chart, a distinction the state could definitely do without. So what is the solution for Kashmir’s ever growing corruption index, an Anna type movement?

Corruption in Kashmir has grown into a multi-headed demon that keeps raising its ugly head virtually everywhere. From the most basic of services to the most core departments, allegations of corruption have been raised everywhere, for virtually all functions of the government. As per the locals nothing here happens without a graft, is it basic common citizen services like issuance of birth certificates, revenue records, PDS or any citizen governance delivery services. Turmoil in Kashmir seems to have given more fertile grounds for the growth of corruption in the state; during the turmoil, governance accountability was unheard of. The overnight rise of some of the lower middle class and middle class, present day elites happened during those turmoil years and not many of these present neo-elites can account for the sources of their wealth. The corruption rot has been institutionalized in such a way that anti graft action by the states premier vigilance organization is hardly been seen as an effort. As per official data available about the State Vigilance organization, for the past 6 years there have just 7 convictions per year (on an average) on corruption charges in the Anti-Corruption Courts of Jammu & Srinagar. Of a total of 42 cases since 2005, 9 have been in 2005, 8 in 2006, 5 in 2007, 6 in 2008, 11 in 2009 and 3 in 2010. Lower numbers of conviction definitely don’t mean lower cases of graft.

Pertinently in 2005 Jammu and Kashmir was ranked as India’s second most corrupt state by Transparency International (TI). In 2008 a survey conducted with special focus on BPL households showed alarming corruption in government services like PDS (Public Distribution System), electricity supply, municipal services and water supply services. In J&K the survey was conducted in 3 districts, where it was shown that the perception of corruption was the highest in capital Srinagar with 63 %, followed by Anantnag 48 % and Doda with 40%. In other services like revenue & land records, police as many as 70-80% household’s participating in the survey said that corruption was prevalent.

The institutionalization of corruption has happened in such a way that in many cases rates of graft are known to have been fixed at the lower level. This is especially the case with revenue services, public distribution system and other tier I basic social services.

As if the corruption in social services in J&K was not enough, allegations of corruption by police have reached a new high. Civil society activists and local lawyers have accused the police of detaining youth without charging them and then demand money from their families for release. These allegations have gained momentum especially after the 2010 unrest, when scores of youth were arrested. A local lawyer complains that in many cases despite having secured release orders from the court, families of these youth often end up paying money to police officials to get their kids released. As per news paper report a DIG of Jammu and Kashmir Police agreed that corruption was a problem in the police force, but said that they were trying to do something about it. Bureaucrats and high ranking officials in Jammu & Kashmir are known live exclusive lifestyles much beyond their manageable income sources and in very rare cases has any disproportionate assets case been initiated and convicted.

Corruption in high places has also been eating into the health resorts of Kashmir wherein illegal construction often with patronage from concerned authorities has played havoc with nature and ecology. Many illegal constructions in Pahalgam have been reported to come on government land and on the banks of the Lidder river, local officials either turning a blind eye or acting hand in glove. In many cases illegal constructions have been reported on grazing lands or forest lands destroying the local ecology there. It was only after the High Court intervened that a ban was imposed on constructions in this world famous hill station. However such encroachment and illegal construction activities continue unchecked in the peripheries of Pahalgam and other places. Already government apathy, patronized illegal encroachments and high corruption in designated authorities has almost nailed the coffins of world famous Dal, Nigeen and Wular Lakes in Kashmir, drowning billions of government money for ‘water bodies’ conservation’ into graft pockets.

In a conflict zone where official accountability may not mean much, the conflict has been milked by the corrupt to make hay without much hindrance. The RTI act could have changed much here but its halfhearted implementation on ground has left much to be desired, the RTI act came into force in J&K from March 20, 2009. Many government offices have been known to either ignore or out rightly refuse applicants request for information forcing the CIC (Chief Information Commissioner) Mr. G.R.Sofi to send an official communication to the Chief Secretary of J&K Mr. Madhav Lal, urging him to initiate measures which would refrain PIO’s (Public Information Officers) / state departmental heads to violate various provisions of the RTI Act. In a rare act of its kind, in August this year the CIC (Chief Information Commissioner) imposed a penalty of Rs 25,000 on Assistant Registrar SKUAST (K), Mr. Abdul Kabir Najar (who also acts as the Public Information Officer there), for refusing to provide RTI information to applicants right from October 1, 2010 till the filing of the RTI denial complaint. However such cases of RTO follow-up are very rare in Kashmir.

The state government has also been known to making very little effort in the cause of effective RTI implementation in the state. While the first CIC (Chief Information Commissioner) for J&K was recommended by the government in January this year, the government is yet to appoint the 2 Information Commissioners to make a full fledged working State Information Commission (SIC). 

Not fully satisfied with the anti corruption measures of the state government, RTI activists in   Jammu and Kashmir have been now demanding a constitution of a committee on the pattern of Lokpal bill panel to recommend changes in various anti corruption legislation's for eradicating this evil from the state. The State Vigilance Act (SVA) has been seen to be a very weak legislation which has so far failed to reign in corruption. In addition to the ineffective SVO (state vigilance organization), the State Accountability Commission which was put in place in 2004 has never been even effectively operational. The seriousness of the state government towards the functioning of SAC (State Accountability Commission) can be gauged from the fact that from April 2008 to May 2011 the SAC was left absolutely nonfunctional for being headless. Although the State Accountability Commission has no power to order punishment, it can only get an enquiry conducted and send recommendations to government, the SAC act has been sufficiently amended to exclude the bureaucrats from its scope. 

The state government may have made many claims regarding its resolve to fight against corruption not much progress has been seen on ground level. Corruption seems to have taken control of all governance services without any fight back effort from the government. There has been a growing demand for setting up of institutions like Lok Pal and Lok Ayukta which would have the powers to work on complaints with enquiries, the power to order registration of FIRs and send cases for prosecution. But as such demands for effective legislation and strong anti corruption bodies have virtually been ignored, skepticism among local people is at an all time high.

Who will redeem Kashmir from the menace of this institutionalized corruption? And Kashmiri’s have a long list ready for such a crusader like their fight for justice, against custodial disappearances, death in custody, directionless state policies, economic deprivation, loot of state resources by corporations, and an apathy driven political class.
The anti graft movement is a challenge big enough, others are more herculean. Who will take the lead in Kashmir? Is Kashmir waiting for its own crusader or will the ‘corrupt class’ succeed in continuing to hold Kashmir to ‘graft ransom’?

12th September 2011