On the third anniversary of the Batla House Encounter, the Jamia Teachers Solidarity Association (JTSA) organized a program on the topic of “Kashmir: Politics of Disappearance” in the FTK Auditorium, on Monday, Sept. 19, 2011.
Sanjay Kak, film maker; and Praveena Ahanger, chairperson for the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP), were the invited speakers on the occasion.
Acquainting a large audience about the story of enforced disappearances and the latest reports on the unfolding of mass graves in the Kashmir valley, Kak said that the prolonged fight of APDP for their missing ones has been going on for the past twenty years but no one has paid heed to them. He also said that the mass grave issue has reached a point where stories are exploding on their own.
Kak while speaking to the audience said, “Out of that ‘crack’ that the 2005 Kashmir earthquake created, a few reports emerged in April 2008 by the Human Rights group, Facts Underground, which spoke about the existence of 1000 unmarked graves in 18 villages of Baramulla, Boniyaar and Uri.”
Kak said, in a poetic style, “Jab tak who zalzala nahi aya, tab tak woh laashein bahar nahi nikal ke aayi.” (Till that earthquake happened, no one knew about those dead bodies.)
“It was for the first time that media, human rights organizations, some NGOs went to areas where there was traditionally no access, and it unfolded the story of unmarked graves,” he added.
Explaining the overall progress in the unearthing of more reports regarding unmarked mass graves, Kak said: “The IPTK (International People’s Tribunal on Human Rights in Kashmir) published a second report, ‘Buried Evidence,’ in December 2009; they looked at 62 sites in the three districts of Baramulla, Bandipora and Kupwara, estimating 2373 unmarked graves.”
“There has been hardly any attention paid to it in the way that the media will probably by reporting it for two days, there will never be any follow-ups and that it,” added Kak.
“In April 2011,” said Kak, “SHRC (State Human Rights Commission) did its own survey in the same three districts. They looked at 38 sites and came up with an estimate of 2730 unmarked graves. Later they clarified and said that 574 of them were identified. If we were able to quickly identify these 574 bodies then who are the other people? Where are all these graveyards and most importantly, who is responsible for this situation?” he questioned.
Kak, expressing his dismay over the irresponsible approach of the media and the Kashmir government towards the mass grave issue said: “Sometime after the SHRC report, I watched Omar Abdullah speaking to Barkha Dutt on television. He said that his government wasn’t sure that those were unidentified bodies in unmarked graves, because in rural Kashmir, there was no tradition of having tombstones. On the same show, Police Chief S M Sahai said that majority of died people in those graves were foreign terrorists from Pakistan. So the Chief Minister and Police Chief in the same program are saying a different thing. But this isn’t a problem either for television anchors or for them because actually they don’t care, it doesn’t matter to them.”
“Even if people in all unmarked graves are militants, for arguments sake, the law of the land still doesn’t permit bodies to be taken and dropped into graveyards without identification. In the documents submitted subsequently in the last two weeks to SHRC, IPTK looked at 53 exhumations made by JK government in last few years. In the official list, 49 of them turned out to be local citizens, one militant and three unidentified,” added film maker Kak.
Pointing towards APDP chairperson Parveena Ahanger, Kak said,” Parveena will tell you that for twenty years, they’ve been asking about their dear ones. They have been told woh idhar bhaag gaye hain, woh Udhar bhaag gaye hain (they ran away here and there). How are we to believe this?”
“Poonch has now come with quite credible information of 2717 unmarked graves in 90 graveyards and 1127 graves from 118 sites have been reported from Rajouri. I want you to think that there are districts like Doda, Ramban, Reasi, Shopian, Anantnag, Kulgam, Budgam, Ganderbal — none of these have been surveyed even when they’re all disturbed districts with AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act) still in place,” he added.
Kak decried Omar Abdulla’s often spoken of, Truth and Reconciliation Commission, into this issue. He said, “It is often misconstrued that it (Truth and Reconciliation Commission) is a substitute for punishing perpetrators of HR (Human Rights) violation.”
“They just want to build a road over the graveyards through it. And I think why SHRC is allowing numbers to be spoken of is because they are trying to suggest a closure,” said he.
After Kak’s hefty account of the mass grave issue, the other speaker, Parveena Ahanger, held the mic. As Ahanger started narrating the tale of her disappeared son with tearful eyes, the audience broke down into tears and loud teary shrills reverberated across the auditorium.
Giving a brief account about the APDP, she said, “I formed this association in 94 (1994) by going village after village to find families whose loved ones had disappeared. We have no data about the number of disappeared persons because we are not in a position to go village by village to collect data as we don’t have resources.”
Ahanger has suffered a lot in last twenty years by moving to different places in search of her disappeared son. She said, “If there are laws for civilians, are there no laws for security forces? It has been 21 years, we protest every month but to no avail. Mehbooba Mufti once came to us seeking votes and said APDP is really a big concern but later she refused to help us saying that she could do nothing because of India’s pressure. The security forces who had taken my son were even called to court but it has not helped. I have promised Allah that I will fight for this cause till I breathe my last.”
Pouring her heart out with tearful eyes she said, “One day Omar Abdullah will go, another will come but no one does understand our pain. Ask the agencies where our sons are? We have become strangers in our own land. We can’t move without showing I-cards to the security forces.”
Adding, “I know I am not alone. You all are with me.”
On hearing these words, the whole auditorium reverberated with the slogan “Hamari Maange Poori Karo” (Fulfill our demands).
Parveena’s speech was followed by a question-answer session. A person among the audience stood up and said, “It was really disturbing to know the reality of things and the pain of mothers. But it’s strange to see that our nation that stood together with Anna against corruption isn’t doing anything to protest against the disappearances and unmarked graves in Kashmir.”
This was followed by the screening of a documentary titled “Where Have You Hidden, My New Crescent Moon,” which featured the story of one Mughli Maasa whose son was also among those who had disappeared. Maasa died in 2008 while waiting for her son to return.
Jamia Teachers Solidarity Association (JTSA) has been organizing such programs every year on the anniversary of the Batla House “encounter.” This encounter was carried out by the Special Cell of Delhi Police on September 19, 2008. Young boys, many of them students of Jamia Millia Islamia University, were picked up by the Special Cell and were pronounced as terrorists. This incident has left the Jamia community shocked, aggrieved and fearful.