SIGNS OF THE TIMES
ONE was awaiting details to the magisterial probe of last week’s encounter killings in Srinagar’s Hyderpora locality, where the victims’ families accused the security forces of allegedly using the civilians as human shields, but then all that one got to hear on 23 November was another shocking news. Though nothing really shocks one in these fascist times, yet the arrest of the internationally known Srinagar-based human rights activist Khurram Parvez can be termed a tragedy for the masses. He and his team have documented the blatant human rights violations taking place in the Kashmir Valley. For the last over two decades, he had been collecting facts about the missing persons, encounter killings, unmarked graves and the countless dead lying tucked in those graves. Unbothered about the major risks involved and not even halting when he lost one of his legs in a landmine blast, he continued unearthing details of the illegal arrests and detentions, disappearances, encounter killings, secret burials and unmarked graves.
In 2008, when unmarked graves were unearthed in and around Kashmir Valley, Dr Angana Chatterji, Professor of Anthropology at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco, and the co-convener of a rights watchdog, International People’s Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Kashmir, had stated in an interview given to me: “We have released a preliminary report in Srinagar titled ‘Buried Evidence: Unknown, Unmarked, and Mass Graves’… We documented the existence of 2,700 unknown, unmarked, and mass graves containing 2,943 bodies, across 55 villages in Bandipora, Baramulla, and Kupwara districts of Kashmir. Of these, 87.9 percent were unnamed, 154 contained two bodies each and 23 contained between 3 to 17 bodies. Exhumation and identification have not occurred in sizeable cases. We examined 50 alleged “encounter” killings by Indian security forces in numerous districts in Kashmir. Of these, 39 persons were of Muslim descent; four were Hindus; seven unidentified. Of these, 49 were labelled militants/foreign insurgents by security forces and one body of a person who had drowned. Following investigations, 47 were found killed in fake encounters and one was identified as a local militant. None were foreign insurgents… They are unmarked as their identities are unknown, even as the Indian Armed Forces and the Jammu and Kashmir Police routinely claim the dead buried in unknown and unmarked graves to be foreign militants/terrorists. If independent investigations were to be undertaken in all ten districts, it is reasonable to assume that the 8,000-plus enforced disappearances since 1989 would correlate with the number of bodies in the unknown, unmarked, and mass graves. Gravediggers and community members tell us that the bodies buried in the 2,700 graves were routinely delivered at night, some bearing marks of torture and burns. In certain instances of fake encounter killings, where the bodies of victims have been identified, it was found that civilian residents in one geographic area in Kashmir were killed in another area. At times, these bodies were transferred to yet another area, then buried. In one instance, we learned that the killings took place outside Kashmir, for example, in Gujarat. Some local security forces personnel and state employees testified to us in confidence. We also attempted to formally contact senior government and security forces officials, requesting explanations. Our requests were declined… As an anthropologist, I can say we were able to identify graves within selected districts and inquire into instances where photographic verifications and/or exhumations had taken place. Our findings do not include the forensic study of the exhumations. The graves, we were able to ascertain, hold bodies of men with a few exceptions. Violence against civilian men has expanded spaces for enacting violence against women in Kashmir. The graveyards have been placed next to fields, schools, and homes, largely on community land, and their effect on the local community is daunting.”
This forum had not just submitted a detailed report to the establishment, but had also demanded a re-probe of all encounter deaths. In fact, Khurram Parvez – he was then Liaison IPTK (International People’s Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Indian Administered Kashmir) and Programme Coordinator, Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society – had told me, during the course of an interview, that one of their demands was to investigate those “encounters” which led to the deaths of these men and also the reasons for their secret burial.
To quote him from that interview: “In the recent case of Macchil fake encounter the Indian army would like people to believe that this is an isolated case of ‘aberration’, but the truth is that there have many more cases of fake encounters. Most of the allegations are not being probed, and even those which are probed, Indian army has refused to prosecute the perpetrators… Buried Evidence also examined 50 alleged ‘encounter’ killings by Indian armed forces in various districts in Kashmir. Of these cases, 49 were labelled militants/foreign insurgents by security forces and one body was drowned. Of these, following investigations, 47 were found killed in fake encounters. One was identifiable as a local militant and 46 others were civilians. Isn’t that a valid reason for us to doubt the claims of Indian armed forces where they have buried these 2,943 men killed in these alleged encounters, some of those which have already turned out to be fake… The graveyard in Kalaroos, Kupwara, from where the bodies of three young men killed in Macchil fake encounter have been exhumed happens to be one of the graveyards studied by IPTK in its report. This graveyard contains 60 more unidentified graves. 55 graves contain one body each, 3 have 2 bodies each, while 1 has 3 bodies and 1 grave contains 5 bodies. If the same graveyard has been used in the recent fake encounter, it is quite possible that if all the 60 unidentified graves of the same graveyard are exhumed, identified and investigated, the fate of many more disappeared men will be ascertained.”
HAPLESS USED AS HUMAN SHIELDS!
With last week’s Hyderpora encounter killings in the backdrop, with the relatives stating that the killed were used as human shields, I’m reminded of that tragic incident of 2017, where a young Kashmiri was used as a human shield. Thankfully he wasn’t killed but went through severe mental and physical torture.
If you can recall in the spring of 2017, a young Kashmiri, Farooq Ahmad Dar, was seen tied to a military jeep, driven in that tied condition the entire day, for 28 kilometres, across several villages in the Kashmir Valley. Mind you, 26-year-old Farooq Ahmad Dar wasn’t a terrorist. On the contrary, he could be termed a ‘good citizen’. That very morning he stood in a queue, outside the polling booth at Arizal’s Chill Bras area to cast his vote for Lok Sabha by-polls for Srinagar constituency. And after casting his vote, he took off on his motorcycle to his sister’s home as there had been a death in the family. And it’s then, whilst he was driving his motorcycle, he was not just stopped by the Army personnel but pulled off from his bike and tied to their jeep. He kept telling the Army personnel led by Major Leetul Gogoi that he wasn’t a ‘terrorist ’, but a shawl artisan and had just voted at booth number 90 of the Chill village and even showed the indelible ink mark on his finger. nothing could stop the brutality unleashed on him. With his pheran in tatters and bruises on his body, he was finally let off from the Rashtriya Rifles camp after the village elders pleaded for his release. And to compound the tragedy, Major Leetul Gogoi was given a commendation certificate!
What was the hurry to award Major Leetul Gogoi with a commendation certificate, when an FIR has been lodged against him, an investigation underway, to investigate whether what he did on that 9 April morning was justifiable or even ethical? After all, what Major Gogoi did was something so terribly horrifying! Tying a hapless civilian to a military jeep, using him as a human shield, dragging him for several kilometres before dumping him!
An emotionally and physically bruised Dar could barely cry out: “Am I an animal to be tied to a jeep and dragged on …that day has changed my life! Major Gogoi is lying by saying I was pelting stones. If I was pelting stones, I wouldn’t have gone to cast my vote! Why hasn’t the police or the Army recorded my statement? The least they could have done was to hear what I have to say.”
Months later it was established by the police conducted probe that Farooq Ahmad Dar was telling the truth – he was no terrorist but a law-abiding Indian citizen. The police investigation report confirmed that Dar was speaking the truth: that is, he had cast his vote at a polling booth in his native village before he was picked up by the army and tied to their vehicle to be used as a ‘human shield…kept under wrongful confinement.’
Yet we didn’t even bother to hear him out, even when he was crying out – “I’m no stone- pelter, nor a terrorist or militant. I’m an Indian, went to cast my vote yet they tied me to their jeep and didn’t trust me, didn’t believe me!”
Human tragedies taking place in the Kashmir region are ongoing. Not halting!