Posts Tagged ‘Baramulla’

Despite the call by human rights organizations to stop the use of weapons such as pellet guns and chilli grenades in tackling riots or mob fury, security forces in the Kashmir Valley continue to deploy the same with impunity. This has led to debilitating injuries and even death, reports Freny Maneksha. 
 

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25 April 2013 – “Killing us is better than making us blind.” This cry in total despair by a Kashmiri youth, who recently lost his vision, after a pellet gun injury, highlights the devastating manner in which seemingly “non lethal” weapons are continuing to be deployed in the Valley. In 2010 when security troops used pellet guns to quell protests and incidents of stone pelting, at least 45 youths suffered loss of vision because of pellet gun injuries, according to the Shri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital in Srinagar.

Media reports estimate that in the current 2013 protests, following the execution of Afzal Guru, there have been at least 12 such cases of youths receiving very serious eye injuries with slim prospects of regaining vision. The youngest of them is a 13-year-old boy, Muzammil Qayoom Rather, who was hit in the eye as he stood at the window of his home in Baramulla district, North Kashmir. On 12 February, according to media reports, he leaned out of the window of his home in Sheeri to shout slogans even as protests were taking place in the streets below. He then received a hit in the eye by security forces who aimed at him.


Air gun pellets can cause serious eye injuries and can penetrate the skin, bone and even internal organs. Pic credit: Wikimedia

It was also on 12 February that nineteen-year-old street hawker, Tariq Ahmad Gojri of Sheeri, Baramulla district, received a hit in the eye. Gojri told the media he had ventured out only to buy bread for the family. He adds that he was unable to seek proper medical attention because of the curfew that was clamped then. By the time he got to a hospital, the tiny pellets had spread through the eye. His entire eyeball had to be removed. Doctors say that these types of penetrating injuries cannot always be treated effectively in district hospitals. But, patients from remote districts are hindered from seeking prompt or timely medical attention because of the oft-prevailing curfew and also because, they say, security troops detain ambulances and vehicles ferrying the wounded.

It is this kind of deliberate and inappropriate use of non- lethal weapons that has evoked widespread criticism by human rights organisations including Amnesty International. Pellet guns, which use hydraulic force to pump hundreds of bullets, can cause widespread injuries across the body. When aimed upwards they can cause serious eye injuries. Besides piercing the eyeball, pellet guns can cause penetration of skin, bone and even internal organs.

One major problem for doctors and medical teams treating such injuries is that since the pellets come out in scores, it hits large numbers of persons in many parts of the body. In 2010 Dr Syed Amin Tabish, medical superintendent of the Sher-I-Kashmir Medical Institute (SKIMS) Srinagar, explained to this correspondent that pellet injuries necessitated a big team of doctors attending simultaneously to a single person who may have suffered hits in the head, abdomen and limbs.

According to media reports, at least three people died in March because acrid fumes of the pepper gas grenades used to disperse crowds in many parts of old Srinagar exacerbated their medical conditions.
•  Maimed by the state, quietly
•  A death in the family

In the same year a medical study on pellet gun injuries was brought out by SKIMS based on the 198 patients who were brought in with pellet gun injuries. The study notes, “Whilst the pellet wound itself may seem trivial, if not appreciated for the potential for tissue disruption and injuries to the head, chest and abdomen, there can be catastrophic results.” Significantly it observed, “Patients should be evaluated and managed in the same way as those sustaining bullet injuries.” The study cautioned that pellet guns should not be used unless extremely necessary and personnel using them may be better trained so that people do not receive direct hits.

Other “non lethal” weapons like pepper gas and pepper grenades (also called chilli grenades) have also been deployed in the latest round of turmoil in Kashmir. According to media reports, at least three people died in March because acrid fumes of the pepper gas grenades used to disperse crowds in many parts of old Srinagar exacerbated their medical conditions. Among them was a sixty-year-old woman from Bemina, named Hazira. Her family members say that on 8 March, a stray pepper grenade landed in her home which worsened her asthma. She died the next day. Another pregnant woman reportedly suffered a miscarriage after she stumbled and fell ill on inhaling the fumes. Whilst these grenades may be aimed at youths protesting on streets, the elderly and young children can be particularly vulnerable to the gas that engulfs the atmosphere, according to doctors.

A doctor at the Soura Institute of Medical Sciences in Srinagar told the press that while they did not know the exact chemical composition of the gas its effects were particularly lethal for people with acute asthma or allergy.

Uzma, a young woman told this correspondent that the intensity of the gas was such that its effects can be felt within a radius of up to three or four kilometres from where it is deployed. �Your throat starts burning and itching and you can go on coughing violently for almost an hour and a half. The eyes start watering and this, too, continues for hours. It is really a horrific and frightening sensation.�

The use of pepper gas and resulting deaths rocked the assembly and the opposition party, the People’s Democratic Party, staged a walkout on 11 March. The Jammu & Kashmir State Human Rights Commission castigated the police and state. In its order, it said the “state is duty-bound under constitution and law to protect the lives of the citizens and in no case are at liberty or have license to adopt such measures which would endanger the health of its subject in the name of maintaining law and order.”

On 21 March, Amnesty International told the government to suspend the use of pepper spray grenades until rigorous independent investigations have been carried out to assess its effect. It has also asked for a proper investigation into the cause of deaths of the three persons. Shashikumar Velath, programme director of Amnesty International India, said the J&K government and police departments have clearly not established any guidelines for monitoring the use of this gas and it is yet another example of “unregulated and excessive use of force by police in J&K.”

Use of pepper sprays is permissible in India and it has been marketed as an effective means of self defence, but it was the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) that in 2008 announced it would begin work on its use as a non-lethal weapon against terrorists. Scientists told the media that they would be using Bhut Jholakia, a chilly grown in the North East, that is recognised as one of the world’s hottest chillies. India’s Defence Research Laboratory rates it as having 855,000 heat units on the Scoville range (which makes it 400 times hotter than Tabasco sauce). These scorching chillies are used to make tear-gas like grenades. On ignition the oleoresin or thick, oily liquid which is absorbed in a composition reacts to liberate heat which evaporates and releases irritants in the atmosphere along with smoke.

The DRDO went ahead with its plans for such weapons even though Amnesty International and other organisations had declared that use of pepper sprays against peaceful protesters was “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.” It described the severity of its effects as “tantamount to torture.” Its use has been rejected in the United Kingdom because of potential carcinogenic properties.

In May 2011, according to a report in India Today, the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) placed an order for as many as 10,000 chilli grenades at a whopping cost of Rs 1.51 crore to be deployed in Kashmir to disperse mobs. Besides the CRPF, the UP state police last year applied to the ministry of home affairs to purchase these pepper grenades which had not yet been tested. Kashmir is the first state in India where these untested grenades are currently being deployed. Interestingly whilst defence personnel and the DRDO have on various blogs and websites held discussions on its efficacy for crowd control, there has been little evaluation of its lethal effects and the fact that its use on unarmed civilian populations is considered a transgression of human rights in many other parts of the world.

Freny Maneksha 
25 April 2013

Freny Manecksha is an independent journalist based in Mumbai.

REFERENCES

http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/crpf-orders-10000-chilli-grenades-for-kashmir-valley/1/142098.html

http://www.indianexpress.com/news/on-police-demand-list-untested-chilli-grenades-to-control-crowd/974344/

http://defenceforumindia.com/forum/indian-army/13244-low-intensity-conflict-laser-dazzlers-tackle-kashmiri-protesters-1.html

http://www.nag.co.za/forums/archive/index.php/t-13684.html

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By Niloofar Qureshi

Published: Wed, 13 March 2013 08:14 PM

 

 

The latest spurt of protests in the Valley, which commenced with the execution of Afzal Guru, got extended due to the mysterious death of a Kashmiri student in Hyderabad and has thereafter continued in the aftermath of a youth shot by the security forces in Baramulla. A ‘protest calendar’ was promptly issued and with people taking to the streets in large numbers, normal life came to a standstill, proving once again that the situation in Kashmir continues to be extremely volatile. Though the separatists must be congratulating themselves for having pulled off a major ‘victory’ through such widespread and prolonged protests, they must not forget that they had played no role in initiating the protests- they were just lucky to get repeated opportunities!
There is no doubt that unfolding events should be used for furthering the ongoing movement for the ‘right to self determination’. However, events should not become the sole agency for the same. Though the widespread protests in the aftermath of the Afzal Guru execution, the mysterious death of the Kashmiri student studying in Hyderabad and the killing of a protester in Baramulla are certainly valid reasons for protesting, such incidents by themselves alone cannot be expected to usher in the change we desire. For, though these incidents do illustrate the sorry plight of Kashmiris, unfortunately, the international community perceives these as mere law and order problems.
While many nations and human rights bodies criticised New Delhi after the Afzal Guru hanging, the criticism was for India’s continuation of the death penalty and not even a single country questioned the legality of this execution or the way it was done. The Hyderabad suicide case too has not evoked any international response and is probably being viewed by the international community as the personal decision of an individual. The Baramulla killing also seems to have unfortunately fallen in the ‘common category’ of  the death of a protester who was shot by the security forces while discharging their ‘legitimate duty’ of maintaining law and order!
What our leaders fail to comprehend is that, in practice, the international community follows moral standards that are far removed from the high ethical values it publically proclaims to uphold. And in order to justify its own perverted sense of reasoning and depraved conscience, it has craftily coined euphemisms like “global war on terror,” “legitimate targets” and “unavoidable co-lateral damage’. Take the case of the American drone campaign in Pakistan– it is no secret that for every terrorist killed in drone attacks, scores of innocent men women and children are also being killed or maimed. Yet, no one seems to mind and though everyone admits that this is ‘unfortunate’, the ‘collective conscience’ of the international community is satisfied by the warped logic that it is simply a case of ‘unavoidable co-lateral damage’, which occurs when attacking a ‘legitimate target’ in the ‘global war against terror’!
That the ‘terrorism factor’ has also helped New Delhi in enforcing brute force in Kashmir too is no secret. While human right activists and even the UN have made repeated appeals for revocation of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), New Delhi has played the ‘terrorism’ card well to counter the same. And, since all those who matter are in some way connected in the ‘global war’ on terror, none are willing to seriously intervene. Their reluctance is understandable, since they are all ‘partners in crime’ and guilty of excesses against innocent civilians. While America cannot do so much since it has the blood of innocents on its hands from drone attacks, Pakistan, which openly espouses the ‘Kashmir cause’ cannot afford opening the ‘can of worms’ of its own murky dealings in the Tribal areas and Balochistan.
The separatists therefore need to introspect. As they have experienced the futility of violence and rightly committed themselves to peace, they should advise the people, especially the youth to refrain from violence. There is an urgent need to educate the youth about the immense power of peaceful protests. Stone pelting and occasional wrecking of public property may seem to be very mild forms of violence, but it nevertheless is. And once protesters resort to violence of any type, then the security forces get an excuse to retaliate and this often results in avoidable loss of life. It should be remembered that the ‘right to self determination’ will certainly not fall into our laps just by needlessly sacrificing our youth and the summer unrest of 2010 in which 122 precious lives were lost, is a grim reminder of this!
The next issue, which the separatist leadership needs to guard against, is to suggest that ‘armed resistance’ could be a viable alternative to the peaceful struggle. Unfortunately, in the recent past, at least two separatist leaders (who have themselves publically denounced the use violent means for achieving the ‘right to self determination’) have made such comments. We have had more than our share of violence and suffered untold miseries due to the same. Being mature and experienced, our leaders know very well that the era of effecting change through the force of arms is long over. Instigating the youth to take up arms would only make them ‘cannon fodder’ and bring more miseries upon our people without achieving anything. In fact, no one would be happier than New Delhi if this happens, as it will provide the AFSPA a new lease of life in Kashmir!
The next point relates to the lack of direction, which the current philosophy of the ‘right to self determination’ movement in Kashmir suffers from.  This is because rather than concentrating on evolving a comprehensive strategy to make it more meaningful and self-sustaining, the separatist leadership seems to be content with solely relying on reacting to incidents and events to carry it forward. In the process, the ideological movement for the ‘right to self determination’ has been reduced to merely a petty ‘agitation’ that erupts whenever acts of excesses against the public occurs and then, its business as usual, till the next such an incident takes place!
Lastly, a one must never forget that for the ‘right to self determination’ movement to succeed, patience and perseverance is essential. However, this will be a daunting task as the youth has become restive, as it has been ‘programmed’ to believe that ‘azadi’ is just round the corner! And this is where their leadership qualities of the separatists will play a very important part, as they have to convince the impatient public that such changes do not come overnight.  But once this is achieved, the ongoing movement will automatically acquire an enduring character and being ‘issue based’ rather than ‘event driven’, will surely gain the respect and support it rightfully deserves from the international community.
(The writer is a New Delhi based journalist and can be reached at: niloofar.qureshi@yahoo.com)

 

 

LEGAL EXPERTS QUESTION ‘SELECTIVE USE’ OF IT ACT

By MUDASIR AHMED

Published: Fri, 11 January 2013 , Kashmir Reader

 

Police abuse video: ‘Perpetrators let off, whistle-blower booked’

 

Follow-Up

 

SRINAGAR: Police investigation into the video-clip showing cops brutally thrashing two youths has drawn flak from legal experts here who say that police have filed a case against the whistle-blower instead of the erring cops. On Wednesday, the police registered a case in Baramulla police station after a 2-minute video-clip surfaced showing scores of policemen thrashing two youth before forcing them to strip. The video became viral on social networking websites amid mass outrage.

However, legal experts said that instead of booking the erring cops under assault and criminal charges, police launched investigation on the basis of a controversial law (Section 66A of the Information Technology Act) that is already under fire for its misuse.Prominent lawyer and human rights activist Parvez Imroz, while condemning the police said the video is a “glaring testimony of state-wide torture that is being perpetuated upon half a million Kashmiris.”
“When the same kind of torture was carried out by US forces in the infamous Abu Ghairab prison, there was an investigation against the accused and they were punished. But here instead of registering an assault charges against the erring cops, they have started an investigation against the whistle-blower who has dared to expose the video,” Imroz told Kashmir Reader.
“They have invoked Section 66A which essentially books the individual who has uploaded the video in the first place, thereby giving cover to those who are involved in this brutal act.”
Echoing similar views, J&K High Court lawyer Mudasir Naqashbandi said that Instead of filing a case to find who uploaded this video on YouTube, “police should have booked the cops who are involved in this barbaric act under charges of grievous hurt, wrongful confinement and attempt to murder.”
The Section 66A of the IT Act has no immediate standing in this case because the video clearly shows that cops are involved in this ghastly act. The State Human Right commission (SHRC) should take suo-moto cognizance of this barbaric act committed by cops,” Naqashbandi told Kashmir Reader.
Section 66A of the IT Act reads: “Any person who sends by any means of a computer resource any information that is grossly offensive or has a menacing character; or any information which he knows to be false, but for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and with fine.”
Section 66A was recently in the eye of the storm after it was used by the authorities in Bombay to arrest two young girls. The duo—Shaheen Dhanda, 21, and Renu Srinivasan—who had questioned the Bombay shutdown to mourn the death of Hindu extremist leader and Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray on November 17, 2012, were booked under the Act. The case was withdrawn following public outrage.
Although senior police officials are tight-lipped on the video, a police spokesmen, said that they have not used Section 66A to book the person who has uploaded the video on the YouTube and that it is only a starting point for the investigation.
“The Act involves investigating individuals who have committed crimes relating to Information and Technology with a criminal intent, and let us not jump to conclusions here. This investigation under Section 66A will then subsequently lead us to those cops who were seen thrashing the two youth on the video,” police spokesman Manoj Pandita told Kashmir Reader.

See the video below

 

Jammu and Kashmir, Posted on Dec 16, 2012 at 01:31pm IST

Baramullah: In a case of shocking apathy, power failure in a Baramulla hospital killed two infants on ventilator support on Friday evening. The family claims that the hospital officials refused to turn on the generator during a two-hour power supply cut.

Residents and family members of two infants who died at a government hospital are now demanding action against the medical staff. The families claim that the medical staff voluntarily refused to switch on the generator.

A probe has been ordered by the Director of Health Services.

The truth lies six feet under

2,156 unidentified bodies in north Kashmir. The families want answers, but the J&K government is trying to give the issue a quiet burial. Baba Umar reports

Graveyard shift Atta Mohammadwas a farmer before the security forces made him bury 200 unidentified bodies in the hills of BimyarPhotos: Abhijit Dutta

NOT TOO long ago, Kashmiris saw a ray of hope when Chief Minister Omar Abdullah announced that he would revoke the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act. However, he failed to walk the talk. The interlocutors’ report met the same fate. Now, the issue of thousands of unmarked graves dotting the meadows and mountains of the state has reached a similar conclusion.

Exorcising ghosts Atta Mohammad with his granddaughter HumairaPhoto: Abhijit Dutta

When the mass graves were discovered in 2005, Omar had agreed to use DNA tests to identify the corpses. But in a report published on 13 August, the Home Department (of which Omar is in charge) has not only declined DNA testing, but also labelled those buried as “combatants” amid pleas from hundreds of families that their relatives may have been buried in unmarked graves after fake encounters.

The government’s action-taken report (ATR) was filed in reply to the State Human Rights Commission (SHRC), following the latter’s April 2012 finding of 2,156 unidentified bodies at 38 burial sites in north Kashmir, of which 574 were identified as those of local residents. The SHRC had demanded DNA testing of the corpses. However, the government said DNA testing would be done only when the complainant could locate the graveyard and the grave in which their relatives might be buried with a “fair amount of certainty” — a rider ridiculed by human rights activists and the families of the missing.

It’s pertinent to note that the government’s ATR is entirely based on police FIRs, thus making it a contentious report.

“The government’s report is aimed at burying the past,” says Razia Sultana, 36, whose 22-year-old quest to find her missing father ultimately led human rights groups to the unmarked graves. She started searching for Raja Ali Mardan Khan (then 55) of Bela Boniyar village, located 90 km from Srinagar, after he didn’t return home on 13 May 1990. The last time he was seen was at a provision store with a bag of sugar and a pack of cigarettes in his hand.

“I lodged a missing persons report but the police’s reaction was that he might have crossed the LOC (Line of Control). I was shocked. He didn’t need to because he had a government job. Anyway, he was too old to go for gun training,” she says.

Sultana’s mother and sister made a trip to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (POK), but they failed to locate Khan. Since then, she has visited many graveyards, police stations, torture cells and militant hideouts.

It was during the October 2005 earthquake when a team of human rights activists led by the J&K Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) and the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) reached Bela Boniyar with relief that Sultana disclosed the presence of mass graves.

Four years later, in November 2009, the JKCCS and the International People’s Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Kashmir came out with their preliminary report called ‘Buried Evidence’, which revealed the presence of 2,700 unmarked graves spread across 55 villages of Kupwara, Baramulla and Bandipora districts.

TEHELKA TREKKED to Bimyar, perched on a mountain overlooking paddy fields and the gushing Jhelum beneath the foothills, located 20 km away from Baramulla town.

In 2003, Atta Mohammad, 65, a farmer, was forced by the police and the Indian Army to become a gravedigger on what was until then a wasteland. “I wasn’t a professional. It took me four hours to dig a grave,” he recalls. “But as the body count rose, I was digging graves at a faster rate.”

He remembers burying the first body. “That night, I vomited. I couldn’t sleep at all. The mutilated face kept haunting me,” he says. The experience made Mohammad decide not to dig any more, but the bullet-ridden bodies started to come in threes and fours; one day the toll was nine. Just like cops and soldiers, families too started pouring in, but very few were successful in identifying the graves of their relatives.

Out of 200 graves, only six bodies have been identified. Relatives would confirm from Mohammad about the clothes and appearance of the body he had buried. The next day, they would come with marble tombstones with the names of the victims etched on them. “At least for some, the struggle would end there. But there are many who came and left dejected. They think their kith and kin are buried here. But there’s no way to prove it,” he says.

Mohammad narrates a chilling incident when a body came for burial and he wanted help in shifting the body. He asked Ghulam Mohiuddin Dar, an electricity board employee working in Bimyar, to assist him. Dar refused. “The next day, Dar came with tears in his eyes. He told me the boy that I had buried was his son,” he recalls.

In fact, when Mohammad went to POK to visit his relatives in 2006, nine bodies were brought to Bimyar for burial. One of the buried, he would later learn, was his nephew Mohammad Saleem, who had gone missing. The old man never tried to open any of the graves to locate his body.

There are bones beneath the Kichama earth too, located 8 km from Baramulla town. Of the skeletal remains of 105 people, not a single body has been identified.

“Each body bears bullet marks. Some are surely not from Kashmir, but the others seem to be local youth,” says Ghulam Mohammad Mir, 42, who oversees the graveyard. “The security forces say they were killed in gunbattles. They would dump the bodies and we would oblige them.”

Mir shows a grave that contains three bodies. According to him, the police and the army had brought the partially burnt bodies, who they claimed were militants. The villagers buried them in a single grave after removing their tattered clothes. Even today, the clothes remain tied to the tree trunks waiting for anyone to identify them.

AMONG THOSE who called the government report “an insult to the families of the disappeared” is lawyer Parvez Imroz of the JKCCS. While demanding DNA testing of the unmarked graves, he compares the situation with Pakistan’s violence-hit Balochistan. “We slam Pakistan for its poor human rights record, but even they have allowed a UN team to visit the conflict-ridden state. Pakistan has also appointed a three-member parliamentary committee to look into missing person cases that run into hundreds. But when it comes to Kashmir, where the figures are in the thousands, the government not only refuses to identify the dead, but also asks families of the disappeared to identify the grave.”

Even the SHRC’s Division Bench member Rafiq Fida criticises the official stand: “There are cases when a person from south Kashmir was found to be buried in the north. The government’s decision to do DNA profiling only when someone can tell with a fair amount of clarity where his relative is buried is ridiculous. If people knew where their missing are buried, why would they knock on the government’s doors?”

Then there are several cases that puncture the government’s claims that all those buried were combatants. Kashmir already has fake encounter cases such as Pathribal, Ganderbal and Machil in which the dead were dubbed Pakistani militants and buried in unmarked graves before their exhumation and DNA profiling indicated that they were local youth killed for promotions and rewards.

Reyaz Ahmad Bhat’s death is one such example. On 29 April 2007, the army’s 47 Rashtriya Rifles (RR) and the police’s Special Operations Group claimed to have killed four Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Toiba militants, who were then buried at Sedarpora in Kupwara. Later, three of the bodies were identified as those of locals killed in fake encounters: Bhat, Manzoor Wagay and Sartaj Ganai. The identity of the fourth body was never ascertained. The bodies of Wagay and Ganai were exhumed and buried in Shopian and Pulwama, respectively.

At Kailashpora in Srinagar, where Bhat lived before disappearing on 4 April 2007, Safina and Javaid Ahmad Bhat are seeking DNA testing of the other two graves to ascertain which of the two graves contains their brother’s body. “We learnt about the death eight months after his disappearance when an anonymous caller said that our brother has been killed. The police showed us a picture of our dead brother, a copy of the FIR declaring him a Pakistani terrorist and the graveyard he was buried in. But we are still not sure in which grave,” says Safina.

In fact, there are cases in which the lack of DNA testing has seen several families claiming one body. For example, when the army’s 18 RR claimed to have gunned down two militants during an encounter in Kupwara on 24 April 2004, Noor Mohammad Shah and Syed Mustafa of Waliwar village in Ganderbal district claimed the bodies and approached the Kupwara District Magistrate for exhuming the bodies. Permission was granted and the bodies were buried again in Ganderbal.

The case took a U-turn on 2 October 2005 when Madan Lal of Nangocheck lodged a written report in Lalpora Police Station saying that Major Vijay Char of 18 RR had taken his son Bhushan Lal on 13 April 2004 along with three other Jammu-based labourers to Kupwara. Madan Lal alleged that the youth were killed in a fake encounter and demanded DNA tests.

‘If people knew where the missing are buried, why would they knock on the government’s doors?’ asks Rafiq Fida

A three-member forensic team from New Delhi was invited to take the samples. However, villagers of Waliwar refused to allow the process, saying reopening the graves would amount to “insulting their religion and the dead people”.

There was another twist in 2005 when an anonymous letter informed Madan Lal that his son was killed in a fake encounter. The letter named a Colonel and a Major as being responsible. When Madan Lal tried to find out more, he reportedly came across Captain Sumit Kohli, who told him that “the person who wrote the letter to you will make sure you get justice”.

A few months later, Captain Kohli was found dead. The army said that Kohli had committed suicide, but his family said the Shaurya Chakra winner was murdered “because he was going to blow the lid off some fake encounters”. The case is being heard in the Punjab and Haryana High Court while human rights activists continue to demand DNA tests to establish who is buried in the graves, which could help solve Captain Kohli’s mysterious death.

BUT THE state prefers to stay silent on the issue. Although Principal Secretary (Home) Braj Raj Sharma agreed at first to be interviewed, he backed off, citing a busy schedule. The chief minister didn’t respond to TEHELKA’s request for comments, despite his personal secretary Asghar Ali agreeing to fix a brief interview. No other senior civilian official would agree to discuss the government’s policy on the issue.

But reliable sources within the police’s human rights cell confirm the presence of unmarked graves in all the districts of Kashmir. TEHELKA has also learnt that officials have found 6,000 persons to have gone missing in the past two decades, a figure all the governments have denied in the past, while human rights groups have maintained that more than 8,000 people have disappeared while in custody.

Although the ATR says no person has come forward despite Omar’s announcement last year that families can lodge complaints for DNA profiling with the police’s CID department, police sources confirm that no such circular was published in any of the leading Kashmiri newspapers. Families who spoke to TEHELKA also pleaded ignorance about the existence of such a cell.

The government’s position is that DNA profiling of all the graves will take many years and requires plenty of resources. But world-renowned forensic anthropologist Dr Mark F Skinner of Simon Fraser University, Canada, told TEHELKA in an email interview that DNA testing a body per se is not expensive (“a few hundred dollars, I think”). “The expense arises from the need for excavation, data tracking and contacting relatives for comparative DNA.”

“This is why I suggest taking the help of the International Commission on Missing Persons to deal with such situations,” says Dr Skinner, who was part of the UN team that probed Afghanistan’s mass graves when it was under Taliban rule.

Even as human rights activists have sought the intervention of international agencies in the probe of unmarked graves, those TEHELKA met are left with a strange dilemma. Sultana wants to end her struggle by finding a grave that contains her father, which she says is only possible if all the graves are DNA tested. Safina too says a DNA test is a must to establish which grave contains her brother’s remains. But the emotional Mohammad doesn’t want any grave to be reopened. “How can you hand over to anyone a father a son or a brother represented by a skull, headless torso or a limbless carcass? After burying 200 such bodies, I can guarantee that they won’t withstand the suffering,” he says.

Baba Umar is a Senior Correspondent with Tehelka. 
babaumar@tehelka.com

 

Fair Game

Photo: Shailendra Pandey

The killing of two sarpanches in a fortnight has mortally threatened the existence of the valley’s fledgling Panchayat Raj institutions. More than a 100 panches and sarpanches have tendered their resignations through paid advertisements in the local newspapers. Many, who couldn’t do it through the media, have rushed to their village mosques to announce the decision.

The situation is reminiscent of the early nineties when classified pages in local newspapers were filled with resignation letters of political workers. The ads ran under the heading, “Non-affiliation to any Political Party,” and carried a short message which expressed remorse and sought forgiveness for the person’s past political activities while announcing the decision to quit.

In an uncanny throwback to the period, the local newspapers are once again running the similar ads. This time, it is panches and sarpanches resigning from their jobs after suspected militants killed their two colleagues in quick succession.

Does this underline a certain resurgence of militancy in the state? It does appear so from a distance. But actually, militancy today is far past its prime, limited to an odd shoot-out or a grenade throw in urban areas or an encounter in the hinterland. But this decreased physical footprint of the violence has hardly detracted from its larger psychological presence. It lurks in the shadows, ready to spring upon us when we least suspect it. And it does so often, in bewilderingly diverse and resourceful ways: There were thirteen targeted killings of the political workers, attacks on CRPF and ambushes on the army in Srinagar over the past two years and it turned out that the brain behind them was actually a cop, a personal security officer of a Senior Superintendent of Police, who was committed to the separatist ideology.

But sarpanch killings are not only about the existence or absence of militancy. Kashmir, despite the prevailing semblance of normalcy remains, for all practical purposes, an abode of conflict where its troubled history continuously melds with the present. The violence may have declined but it is not over. The sentiment and the environment that produced it haven’t gone anywhere.

It is in this treacherous environment that panchayat members operate. Their election and existence not only signifies an idyllic peace but also the starkest message so far that the Kashmiris at the grassroot level have abandoned the Azadi discourse. But this is not exactly the case, at least to the extent conveyed by the existence of this third tier of democracy. This is what makes them the biggest challenge for the militants: a dense village to village network of the elected grassroots representatives, if left undisturbed, means absolute negation of everything they stand for.

The government, on the other hand, is happy that panchayats are in place. They primarily represent a normal Kashmir. Their democratic worth and the need to protect them come last. They are, therefore, valued for the very purpose that militants hate them. Then, there is the impossibility of securing them from militant attacks. The state’s Panchayat Raj minister, Ali Muhammad Sagar, now says that the government will provide security to whichever panchayat members has a threat perception. But the fact remains that all of them face it.

Panches and Sarpanches are thus haplessly in the middle, a fair game for everyone. There are militants on one side who see their continuance as the mortal threat to separatist movement and government, on the other, which has left them to fend for themselves.

“Army tells us don’t resign and militants pressure us to do so. We don’t know what to do. Meanwhile, one by one, our colleagues are getting killed,” said a sarpanch from Baramulla, refusing to be named.

Author:   is special correspondent with Tehelka magazine.