People’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) demands a thorough probe into the large number of enforced disappearances in the hands of the security forces in Kashmir. What is shocking is the manner in which these enforced disappearances are passed off as encounter killings of ‘foreign militants’ and identification is harrowing as bodies are buried far away from where the person was picked up and the subsequent torture and brutality have effectively disfigured the dead.
However, the recent media coverage of 5 cases of exhumation in Jammu and Kashmir has rubbished the official statistics regarding custodial killings, enforced disappearances and those who went missing. Last month the Chief Minister stated that there had been 111 cases of custodial killings between 1996-2006 (83 between 1996-2002, 24 between 2003-05 and only 4 in 2006). Equally, the official figures for those who went missing (including enforced disappearances and also those who voluntarily went missing) dropped from 3931 in June 2003 to 1093 in Dec 2006 to only 700 as on 16 February 2007. From the above, it would suggest that all is well in the state of J&K. Unfortunately, that is not so, as the recent cases of exhumation suggest or the APDP figures for enforced disappearances which stand at a staggering number of anything between 8000-10,000.
The point is not that official figures are merely conservative. The larger and more serious point is that they shield the real state of affairs. For example, in all 5 cases which have come to light recently, the dead were passed off as foreign militants who were killed in encounters. Abdul Rahman Paddar who disappeared on Dec 8, 2006 was killed and passed off as a Pakistani, the very next day. His body was found in one of the unidentified graves in the ‘shahid mazar’ (graveyard) in Batmohalla, Sumbal. Showkat Ahmed Khan, an imam at a local mosque in Zadibal, ‘disappeared’ on Oct 14, 2006. It is feared that he might have been the ‘foreign militant’ killed by the 13 RR at Ajas the following night as his body bore marks of torture when exhumed. Nazir Ahmad Deka, a street vendor from Lal Chowk was picked up on Feb 18, 2006 and killed in Ganderbal; Gulam Nabi Wani was picked up from near Biscoe school in Srinagar and shown as killed in an encounter on March 8 2006 in Kangan; and Yakub Mir was picked up on 21 Jan 2007 and killed by the 52 RR on Jan 25 in Batmora.
In each of these instances ‘recoveries’ of weapons were shown, the faces of those killed were disfigured and their photographs taken subsequently. They were buried far from their own areas, where local inhabitants could not identify them.
It is clear that the authorities guilty of these killings have easy access to un-accounted weapons which could be foisted on bodies to lend credence to a story about an encounter. In each case that has been investigated thus far, it has been established that both the Army’s Rashtriya Rifles and the Special Operations Group of the J&K police were involved. In all the cases, the formal requirements of law such as, filing an FIR, memos of alleged recoveries of weapons were maintained, the alleged name of the ‘dreaded militant’ from Pakistan were dutifully noted and, the reward money was shared between the forces.
These recent exhumations have exposed the ease with which the RR and SOG can pick up just about anyone, accuse the person of being a Pakistani militant, torture, kill and then bury the body away from his neighbourhood. Ironically, these cases also show that it is possible, to use the same paperwork which was gone through to hide custodial killings to fix responsibility for these crimes on their perpetrators.
Perhaps the most important conclusion that can be drawn from these recent cases is the sheer lies and manufactured data that pass for official figures and statements on ‘militants’ apprehended and/or killed, and custodial killings and disappearances. It needs to be remembered that the shahid mazar at Batmohalla where Paddar’s grave was found, has a total of 45 graves, 30 of which have no names and 15 have names of alleged “militants” on their plaque. The same is true of several such ‘shahid mazars’ across the state.
Despite these, the Chief Minister of J&K announced a judicial inquiry on 31 January 2007 into only these recently exposed instances. His refusal to expand the purview of the inquiry to include all cases of such enforced ‘disappearances’ shows that the official attempt is to project these incidents as ‘aberrations’ and not a part of an overall long standing policy of state repression in the J&K. The CM’s argument against expanding the scope of the inquiry was that it would open a “pandora’s box” and “skeletons would tumble out of cupboard” of other parties which had been in power since 1996. Despite such damning evidence against the state forces he still felt obliged to warn people against discrediting the security forces who ‘were doing a fine job’. More recently, as on Feb 16, the CM announced a police probe into the cases of 700 missing which the state accepts since 1996. Given the magnitude of the crimes committed, a police probe into a deliberately lowered figure of ‘700 missing’, is tantamount to making a mockery of the exercise of investigating crimes seriously.
The inclusion of ‘enforced disappearance’, ‘missing’ or ‘encounter killing’ within the nomenclature of state repression is not new and unique to Kashmir. Punjab saw a similar trend in the 80s and the North East has also witnessed similar crimes by the army over the decades. But what is imperative is a much wider and deeper probe into the shocking state of affairs in Kashmir. Civil rights groups have all along maintained that unless and until a thorough investigation is done into enforced disappearances, the truth will never be told to the people.
- That an independent judicial inquiry be ordered into all cases of enforced disappearances. The parents, relatives and friends of the ‘disappeared’ be assisted to exhume unidentified graves to identify the person buried.
- That all responsible for these crimes be prosecuted, especially the Superintendent of Police of the SOG and the Commanding Officer of the RR unit in the present cases.
- That those in-charge of counter-insurgency operations must also be convicted for condoning, if not inspiring, such crime against humanity. In the light of international norms that govern so-called “non-international conflict”, Geneva Convention’s Protocol III, and the obligations of the authorities to ensure compliance with protection of non-combatants, such custodial killings amount to no less than ‘war crimes’.