‘Disappeared’ in Kashmir

IT is not surprising at all that the chief minister of Indian Kashmir, Omar Abdullah’s written statement on the disappeared persons, in the assembly on Oct 8 should have been received with complete disbelief.

He said, “Till ending July 2012, 2,305 persons have been declared missing.” FIRs were lodged only in 182 cases. In the rest of the cases, “missing reports and complaints have been lodged”.

Sana Altaf of the Srinagar daily Greater Kashmir noted “even after 23 years of armed conflict, no authentic official data exists on the number of disappeared persons in Kashmir valley while successive governments continue to come up with contradictory figures”.

According to the National Conference government headed by Farooq Abdullah the official figure of disappeared persons stood at 3,184. The then People’s Democratic Party government headed by Mufti Sayeed informed the assembly in February 2003 that 3,744 persons went missing between 2000 and 2002.

According to the Srinagar-based Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) which has rendered yeoman service all these years, at least 8,000 persons have disappeared since the militancy began in 1989. Punjab witnessed a similar pattern of abuse and cover-up during the counter-insurgency operations from 1984 to 1995.

An inquiry by the police investigation team of the Jammu and Kashmir State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) has found 2,730 bodies dumped into unmarked graves in four districts.

The Inquiry Report of Unmarked Graves in north Kashmir, submitted by the investigating police team to the SHRC on July 2, 2011, said that the unidentified bodies had been buried in 38 sites in the Baramulla, Bandipora, Handwara and Kupwara districts. At least 574 were identified as the bodies of local Kashmiris. The government had previously said that the graves held unidentified militants.

Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said: “For years, Kashmiris have been lamenting their lost loved ones, their pleas ignored or dismissed as the government and army claimed that they had gone to Pakistan to become militants. But these graves suggest the possibility of mass murder. The authorities should immediately investigate each and every death.”

The Inquiry Report recommended that the SHRC call for immediate DNA sampling and other forensic tests to try to identify the bodies by matching them with the next of kin of the people who have disappeared. Seventeen of the bodies found in the four districts have already been reburied by relatives in family graveyards. The investigation found that 18 of the graves contained more than one body. But the Kashmir government has refused to conduct DNA tests to identify the bodies.

New terms have come into vogue. The wife of a ‘disappeared’ man is called ‘half-widow’. International law, especially international humanitarian law, has begun to grapple with the problem. For long the chairperson of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances studied the record in some countries and reported to the then UN Human Rights Commission at Geneva now replaced by the Human Rights Council.

The International Convention on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances defines enforced disappearances as “the arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty by agents of the state or by persons or groups of persons acting with the authorisation, support or acquiescence of the state, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person, which place such a person outside the protection of the law”.

The convention grants all persons directly harmed by an enforced disappearance, such as family members of the disappeared, a “right to know the truth regarding the circumstances of the enforced disappearance, the progress and results of the investigation and the fate of the disappeared person”. India signed the convention in 2007 but has not ratified it.

The convention prohibits states from claiming a lack of resources to justify refusing to investigate a possible enforced disappearance by placing a duty on states to guarantee those resources. ‘Security’ cannot justify refusal to release information related to enforced disappearances. No “exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification for enforced disappearance”.

Mr Ravi Nair, executive director of the South Asia Human Rights Documentation Centre in New Delhi, to whom this writer is much indebted for his assistance, rightly holds that the law is violated if governments impose on the families of the victims the burden to provide information before attempting to identify whether any of the bodies belong to disappeared persons.

The UN Human Rights Committee places the burden of implementing the right to the truth on the state, not the victim’s family: “In cases where allegations are corroborated by credible evidence … and where further clarification depends on information exclusively in the hands of the state party, the committee may consider … allegations substantiated in the absence of satisfactory evidence or explanations to the contrary presented by the state.”

Disappearances blight the lives of whole families. In Kashmir they spread what The Economist aptly called “a war-borne epidemic of mental illness”.

The writer is an author and a lawyer.

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The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

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Comments (15) Closed

Oct 28, 2012 08:54pm
Why do we have to compare atrocities of Indian administered Kashmir with other regions. Missing people is a serious big concern everywhere. One should condemn each and every case of extra judicial killing, missing people or any disappearance. I am really sad to read people commenting and defending the acts of law-enforcing agencies in Indian administered Kashmir and pointing fingers towards Baluchistan etc. Is there a competition going on here. A single person or 3,184 missing people have equal implication. As humans if it is India or Pakistan we must condemn all which is bad on both sides of the border.
Oct 27, 2012 11:18pm
very very thought provoking question........ Answer is ZERO
Oct 28, 2012 08:40pm
Raj's comment is pertinent. AG Noorani does not ask the central question: why does the situation which he describes relates to Kashmir, and not to another Indian state? The simple fact is that the deaths which go unreported, unsung, unexamined and unpunished, are unfortunately a consequence of Muslim agitation, of the continued hatred of the Hindus and this despite all the horrors of Partition. The kaum ideology of violence and hate supersedes all reasons for peaceful, amicable co-existence with the Kaffir Community. One of the reasons of the Kashmir Muslims' hatred is due to their all, in their totality, having been converted from all the lower castes of Hindus. That is one more reason for their hatred of the Brahman Pandits. It feeds their passion to cleanse them out of the state. The Muslim separatists are motivated by the pretense of seeking to establish one more so-called pure state, the purity of which is defined by the Muslim League claiming as just a travesty of the history of Indian Islam. AG Noorani ought to explain why is the Kashmiri Muslim different in their Muslimness from other Indian Muslims. The great folly of Muslims is that they believe that purity can be established on an eternal basis, in their inability or unwillingness to grasp that Time does not allow purity to last. The apple rots - in time. The sharia never established a pure state anywhere in 14 centuries. Pakistan is not a pure state. It will never be one. Nor will the Abdullahs' Kashmir.
Oct 28, 2012 08:59pm
What makes you think Kashmiri Pundits are not accounted in the figure given. Srinagar-based Association has given a figure of at least 8,000 persons disappeared since the militancy began in 1989. I take Kashmiri Pundits in that count.
Oct 28, 2012 09:05pm
Balouchistan has around 600 missing people and currently the Supreme Court is investigating the cases. The problem is that in Indian administered Kashmir or the Indian govt is not probing these disappearances. For them it never happened.
Oct 28, 2012 09:10pm
@Nabankur...For Pakistani administered Kashmir, there is no military law for civilians or any disappearances nor any governor's rule. There is no law and order situation. I do not understand what are you pointing at?
Oct 28, 2012 03:18pm
Who says kashmiri hindus have vanished most of them are back in kashmir and thriving . All the political parties in kashmir as well as in delhi have gone out of their way to appease kashmiri hindus in addition to offering them various concessions and largesses . So they haven't vanished they exist and you can find them in kashmir or well settled in various parts of india.
Oct 27, 2012 08:09pm
why nobody talks about the Kashmiri Pundits who simply vanished.
Nathan, USA
Oct 27, 2012 12:08pm
How about a list for Balochistan? It will be an eye opener to even Pakistani people.
Raw Agent
Oct 28, 2012 03:57pm
Dawn should publish reports on Kashmiri Pandits as well
Oct 27, 2012 05:03am
If the loved and dear ones are siding the extremist view .. and kill other people to prove the point ... dont u think they should be paid in the same coin ?? There is always collateral damage ... When people who have extremist view start getting the stick they try to hide behind "Human Rights" which is a common knowledge ...
Cyrus Howell
Oct 27, 2012 01:24am
"I invite you to name a society that created a secret prison system, outside the rule of law, where torture takes place, that sooner or later didn't turn the abuse against it's own citizens." -- Naomi Wolf
Oct 27, 2012 07:30am
Mr Noorani , very thought ful & well narrated piece. Do you have simmilar information or details on " Pakistan administered Kashmir" ? That will also be an interesting read .
Oct 27, 2012 05:38pm
Naomi Wolf is no doubt very attractive woman alright. But is she the high priestess of wisdom to comment on all political issues?
g m patra
Oct 28, 2012 07:50pm
I am peeved because she has guts to talk about Kashmir but nothing about how Pak Govt teaches hatred to its children? How there are more muslims being killed every day in Pakistan. Forget about how the people of oyher religions or sahiaits or ahmedias are being treated in Pakistan. Is it not Pakistan who shot a girl just because she wanted to go to school. She will earn the right to question others if she can improve her house first.