In the 64 years since both India and Pakistan gained independence, the two countries have fought multiple hot wars and a never-ending hostile cold war over the disputed region of Kashmir. Both feel Kashmir is an integral part of their territory and are willing to go to any lengths to assert that belief. Lost in the midst of this wrangling are the hopes and aspirations of the Kashmiri people. We are only now beginning to discover what happens when the actual residents of Kashmir become mere pawns in a power play. The discovery of over 2,000 people buried in unmarked graves should not come as a surprise. Indian security forces have shown themselves to be ruthless and bloodthirsty in their repression. Of course, at times, the militants have been involved in acts of violence as well.
The first thing the Indian government must do is use all the resources at its disposal, especially DNA testing, to identify as many of the bodies as possible. The identity of the victims will give some clue as to who is responsible for their murders. Far more importantly, it will give the families of some of the over 10,000 people who have ‘disappeared’ in Kashmir a chance to learn the fate of their loved ones. Whoever the men in the unmarked graves might be, they deserve something more than to be written off as mere statistics in a bloody territorial dispute.
The Indian government has often made the implausible claim that those killed by their security forces and those who have gone ‘missing’ were all militants. This has been thoroughly debunked thanks to the tireless work of Indian and international human rights organisations. Hopefully, the discovery of these mass graves will lead to pressure on the Indian government to rethink its policy of mass detentions, military action, curfews and severe repression. Far more likely, though, is the possibility that the mass graves will be written off by India as the doing of militants, supposedly sent from Pakistan. Such a defiant posture would not only set back the barely-surviving peace process, it would be a grave injustice to the beleaguered people of Kashmir.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 23rd, 2011.