On Wednesday, two rights groups composed of lawyers, activists and relatives of disappeared people just released in Srinagar a voluminous 800-page report revealing in gut-numbing detail the brutalities that have been inflicting on people in Kashmir since they started rebelling against Indian rule decades ago.
The “Structures of Violence: Indian state in Jammu and Kashmir” report is a record of hundreds of consented testimonies of victims and witnesses, justice denied in numerous cases of torture, murder and disappearance at the hands of government forces. Senior army, paramilitary and police officers stand identified among 972 other personnel, as alleged perpetrators, never charged, never tried.
In the world managed by technicalities of law and protocol, the chilling findings in the report may in all likelihood meet the same indifference the people’s woes in Kashmir have met in the past. The people of disputed sovereignty may have no locus standi in the international multilateral bodies like the International Criminal Court or the United Nations' Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. And, a state that upholds impunity as legal cannot be expected to indict itself in such procedures. But if the reaction of the 200-odd people present at the release of the report is any indication, a record of a brutal aspect of their own contemporary history means catharsis and more self-acknowledgement to continue a struggle for human and political rights.
The forgotten word
Pro-India political leaders from the across the spectrum never tire of speaking up for “peace and development”. Rarely does one come across a mention of justice. Former surviving Kashmiri militants, Ikhwanis as they are called, who were turned to work alongside the military and unleashed untold violence on civilians, have acknowledged shame and regret in their testimonies contained in the report, talking about how they were financed by the army. Some of them have been a part of the elected political leadership in Kashmir.
“Perhaps the most cynical tactic of the armed forces in Jammu and Kashmir has been the use of the people of Kashmir against themselves,” the report says in its analysis.
Kashmiris have been aware of this phenomenon operating at every level of social and political organisation. It has become a pertinent source of spiritual suffering in the society where a certain necessary degree of economic well being, irrespective of its source, is often perceived as the only way of affording personal security and survival.
“Justice cannot be expected from a murderous regime of oppression,” a resident who survived months of torture and incarceration in a military camp said, holding a copy of the report in his hands. “ A record of crimes against us in Kashmir is as much justice as we can get for us ourselves. We will not be forgotten by history. Every victim’s story in the report is mine, my name is not important,” he said when asked if he could be quoted with his name.
He was echoing a sentiment prevalent across Kashmir that real and comprehensive justice in the state's present political condition was not possible.
Culture of impunity
The report draws a grotesque picture of a climate of impunity prevalent in Jammu and Kashmir, which it says, is upheld by state institutions, including sometimes even by the judiciary. It traces cases that have gone on in the courts for decades. After years of research, extensive survey of government documents and long-running litigation, the report concludes that available remedies in the domestic justice delivery system have been “conclusively exhausted” with no justice in sight for the thousands of victims.
The report also analyses acts of mass violence including massacres, rape, torture and arson in which one-sided investigations have been either stopped or closed, including by the country’s premier investigative agency, the Central Bureau of Investigation. It then juxtaposes these against witness experiences and their narratives.
The analysis goes beyond individual perpetrators and seeks to indict not just the individuals accused of specific crimes against civilians but blames the entire chain of command in the forces’ formations.
One instance of mass violence brings home the reality much more than the infamous case of the staged encounter of Pathribal in 2000. In the case of rape of 50 women in the border villages of Kunan and Poshpora blamed on soldiers in 1991, the army has recently obtained an order from the state High Court to stop investigation into the entire story. The final outcome of the Pathribal case of the execution of five civilians is well known. The case was a rare battle for justice taken right up to the Supreme Court that allowed the army to hold a military trial against its own men. It finally exonerated all the accused executioners, closing the doors for justice for the survivors for good.
The groups have also, for the first time, surveyed the endemic militarisation, detailing how it interferes with social, economic and political life of the state in which more than 750,000 troops have been deployed. The government has never stated an exact number of army and paramilitary forces present in the state.
The rights groups, the Association of Parents of Disappeared People and International People’s Tribunal for Indian-administered Kashmir, are now preparing to submit their findings to the United Nations' Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and appeal for it to allow the International Criminal Court to take cognizance.
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