For the first time in Jammu and Kashmir, an official inquiry has said that it is “beyond doubt” that there are scores of unidentified bodies in unmarked graves in the Valley — as many as 2156 bodies buried at 38 sites since militancy began in 1990.
All these bodies, according to an inquiry by the investigative wing of the J&K State Human Rights Commission (SHRC), were handed over by the police to the local population for burial with bullet injuries and were classified as “unidentified militants.” Strongly contesting this in the absence of any profiling done by the police, the probe has called for a thorough investigation across the state, FIRs, exhumation and prompt DNA profiling of the bodies and comparison of samples with those taken from residents who have been campaigning against the disappearance of their relatives.
It quotes former British Prime Minister William Gladstone to make a telling point: “Show me the manner in which a nation cares for its dead and I will measure with mathematical exactness, the tender mercy of its people, their respect for the law of the land and their loyalty to high ideals”.
The report says that of the bodies, a few were defaced, 20 were charred, five only have skulls remaining and there are at least 18 graves with more than one body each.
This startling conclusion comes after a three-year-long inquiry by an 11-member team led by Bashir Ahmad Yatoo, the Senior Superintendent of Police of the investigative wing of the J&K SHRC.
The team scoured police records to count the number of “unidentified bodies” sent for burial, cross-checked this against testimonies from police officials, eyewitnesses, village committees, village heads, elders, mosque committees, gravediggers and records prepared by caretakers of the graveyards. Many witnesses spoke on the condition that they not be named — the testimonies of 62 who didn’t seek anonymity have been made part of the report.
There were 21 unmarked graves in Baramulla, three each in Bandipore and Handwara and 11 in Kupwara. The probe said it established 851 unidentified bodies in Baramulla, 14 in Bandipore, 14 in Handwara and 1277 in Kupwara.
The report of the investigation, obtained by The Sunday Express and handed over to the SHRC last month.
“It is beyond doubt that unmarked graves containing unidentified dead bodies do exist at various places in north Kashmir. The local police while handing over the unidentified dead bodies to locals for burial, was claiming them to be the dead bodies of unidentified militants but later on, out of 2730 unidentified dead bodies, 574 were identified as the dead bodies of locals by their next of kin at these 38 places visited by the investigating team,” says the report.
In fact, the SHRC investigation was the response to a campaign by the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) which in March, 2008, released a report, “Facts Underground” and alleged the presence of unmarked graves. The next month, the SHRC issued notices to then Congress-PDP government and set up the probe committee. In December 2009, another human rights group, the International People’s Tribunal on Human Rights, released a report claiming that unmarked graveyards “entomb bodies of those murdered in encounter, fake encounters and extrajudicial, summary, and arbitrary executions.”
The SHRC team included Inspectors Mohammad Yousuf, Baghwant Singh, Ashiq Hussain and Veer Singh; Sub Inspector Khalid Mehraj, Assistant Sub Inspector Farooq Ahmad, Head Constables Ghulam Mohammad and Aijaz Ahmad besides Special Grade Constables Ghulam Qadir and Nazir Ahmad.
“The scope of DNA extraction from remains of these unidentified bodies buried in unmarked graves of north Kashmir is still very bright. As the time will go on to elapse, chances will be more and more reduced,” the report says. “Thus the Commission should pass an order with directions to do the needful as soon as possible so that the identity of the disappeared persons and those unidentified bodies buried in nameless graves may be established or negated. The DNA sampling techniques can be supplemented by other techniques like dental examination, distinctive medical characteristics, finger prints and physical description etc”.
The report also suggests that “to stop the misuse of powers under AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act) and Disturbed Areas Act,” it is necessary that wherever anybody is killed — whether he is a militant or an innocent civilian — his or her identification profile including DNA profile should be maintained properly.”