Recently, I came across the work of Slovenian poet Tomaz Salamun and found myself unexpectedly distressed, even outraged, after reading his short poem Not the War. In the words “Not the murder, silence brings one back to the scene of the crime”, Salamun is perhaps talking of love. But I am thinking war, and am transported back home, to Kashmir, to scenes of nameless burials and sites of extra-judicial killings.
I was angry at the silence of the Indian State, and more crucially perhaps, the hushedness of the country’s vibrant civil society, at the discovery of thousands of unmarked graves in troubled Jammu & Kashmir. It has been nearly a year since the State Human Rights Commission (SHRC), a human rights body appointed by the state government, released an extensive report on the presence of 2,156 bullet-ridden bodies in unmarked graves in the border districts. It confirmed what a local rights group, the International People’s Tribunal of Kashmir, had revealed in a landmark investigation in 2008. Hundreds of the bodies were of men described as “unidentified militants”, killed in fighting with the armed forces during the armed insurrection of the 1990s. But, according to the report, at least 574 of them were of those “identified as local Kashmiri residents”.
Like many Kashmiris and Indians, I waited for something to happen—international outrage perhaps, a furore, a commission of inquiry and, one might be forgiven for thinking, even the possibility of justice—for the State cannot exonerate itself from its responsibility of delivering justice with a mere investigation. (Surely, one doesn’t hear too often of mass graves these days, except perhaps those of the Balkan conflict of the 1990s or of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq!) But, apart from news reports in the Indian and the international press, and the local administration’s vague talk of a truth and reconciliation commission—I wonder how one can reconcile in the absence of truth—nothing significant has happened.
Kashmiris have, of course, always known that the hundreds of Kashmiri men who disappeared, mostly in the 1990s, but also in subsequent years, did not vanish into thin air—they were buried, unaccounted and unrecorded, in nameless graves in the Himalayan tracks near the LoC. We have also known that not all of them were combatants killed in fighting with the armed forces. Many of them were victims of fake encounters and extra-judicial killings, as has been revealed in the many cases of men previously described as “dreaded militants” found to be innocents killed for medals or money. In one appalling instance of wilful perversion of justice—the Pathribal fake encounter of March 2000, around the time US president Bill Clinton was to visit India—the Indian State has so far refused to prosecute army officers involved in the premeditated murder of five innocent men portrayed as terrorists who had massacred 35 Sikhs of Kashmir. This, when the Central Bureau of Investigation has submitted evidence that the men were “killed in cold blood”. Many in Kashmir have reconciled to the idea that justice may never be done, the guilty may never be punished and grieving relatives may be condemned to Sisyphean waiting.
The publication of the SHRC report last year, confirming the presence of unmarked graves at 38 sites near the mountains of Kashmir, while reopening old wounds also gave fresh hope to the kin of those who had disappeared—that there may be some closure after all; that the Indian State may, in a rare moral turn, address one of the darkest chapters of the 22-year-old uprising against its rule in Kashmir; that it may finally be willing to listen to what rights groups, journalists and the parents of the missing have been saying for years.
Does not such a discovery merit even a customary response from the Indian State? As far as I remember, there has been no official comment by the Central government in Delhi, so deeply entrenched is India’s policy of indifference and denial on Kashmir. And what of its intellectual classes who were on site, and rightly so, when India signed the UN resolution against Sri Lanka for its atrocities against Tamil civilians during the campaign against the ltte? If the conscience of a nation is not stirred by the discovery of thousands of nameless burials in what it claims as an integral part, the claim not only rings hollow, it was and will only ever remain a claim.
In recent months, some well-meaning commentators and Kashmir experts have started talking about moving on, about the dividends of peace, about economics as opposed to politics—as though these dual aspects were congenitally detached. This is more or less consistent with the outpourings of some members of India’s new class of beat intellectuals—they move from issue to issue, or studio to studio, with equal panache—and their callousness towards the tragedy of Kashmir is matched only by their disdain for even contemporary history. Perhaps the most serious and bizarrely anti-intellectual assertion, and therefore an insidious one, seems to project the idea of peace as somehow incompatible with the idea of justice, and those who demand it as some kind of violence fetishists—as though talking about massacres stems democracy and progress.
In the Indian establishment—and indeed the political philosophy espoused in statist writing on Kashmir employs language disturbingly reminiscent of an ‘establishment project’—there has been a sudden spurt in conversations around the ‘dividends of peace’ in Kashmir. This is, of course, not possible without the buy-in of a thriving comprador class in the conflict-torn land. Translated into realpolitik, this otherwise benign phrase seems to convey to a subject population that it is time they forgot their long-held aspirations for freedom, as also about possible crimes committed by a state that has been nothing but militaristic in its dealings with them. The jackboot comes draped in a flag emblazoned with the words “Let bygones be bygones”.
As for the talk of a truth and reconciliation commission to close the story of unmarked graves, while it is unambiguously noble in its pacifist aspirations and surely the right thing to do to assuage the pain of a people, it seems ludicrously premature in a place that is run by a system of repression. (It must be noted that, for all practical purposes, the Indian State and its client elites operate without a moral system in Kashmir.) One is, again, compelled to ask some elementary questions: truth and reconciliation, yes, but on who on whose terms? Can it mean anything if the terms are set by a repressive state? One hates to suspect this, but the people who tout this as a solution may not even fully understand the import of the phrase and have perhaps forgotten that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa came into effect after the end of apartheid, not while it was in full play. Even if one were to make an attempt to attend to the views of those who preach “moving on”, a single, simple, inquiry stands in the way: How does one move on from thousands of graves in one’s front garden?
(Mirza Waheed, who lives in London, is the author of The Collaborator.)
Apropos Mirza Waheed’s column (Where 5,000 Graves Don’t Speak, Jun 18), I fail to understand why we—the so-called literate middle class of India—refuse to accept or even listen to any talk of human rights violations in India. It’s high time we set our stereotypes aside and listen to what Kashmiris say, and have been saying for 22 years now.
Sabika, New Delhi
Waheed would have done well to highlight the point that Kashmiri youth should try to integrate with mainland India and share its economic benefits instead of clambering on to Pakistan’s terror machine.
Mohan Doshi, Bangalore
Waheed is rightly distressed and outraged, as are all Kashmiris, whenever in thought we go back to the scene of crime. Kashmir is also rightly known as “resh waer”, the exalted garden of saints. Can he be bold enough to join me in restoring “resh waer” status to Kashmir instead of staying in England?
P.K. Kaul, on e-mail
I happened to tour Kashmir recently and felt our government can’t escape blame. Little seems to have been done there, despite claims of huge money spent. The Kashmiris are a courteous and soft-spoken people—you could joke that they’d even cheat you courteously. Speaking to my cab driver, with whom I got acquainted over five days, I asked, “What do Kashmiris want?” He said they wanted azadi, the way Indians wanted azadi from the British. He said they wanted to remain free of both Pakistan and India, though he failed to explain what benefits there would be to being land-locked. He also told me how much Kashmiris hate Indian troops, although he confessed Kashmir was better off being with India than Pakistan. Isn’t this sentiment something the government must take a cue from and try to win hearts?
Some day—and not too far—people like Waheed will change the situation in Kashmir with the power of their pen.
Farhan, Auckland, NZ
Most controversial articles in Outlook are written by people who’ve recently authored a book. Is that just coincidence?
Rajagopalan Chakravarthy, on e-mail
Waheed’s deceit lies in his selective concerns. The killing, loot and rape of 5,00,000 Kashmiris to get them to convert to Islam or leave the Valley is a human rights violation too, a genocide. If, in this, some 5,000 get killed and are put in unmarked graves, it’s sad, isn’t it? Waheed seems to be a Kashmiri Goebbels.
Ashutosh Kaul, Toronto
If Pakistan wasn’t compelled by the relentless Indian fight-back, international pressure and its own dismal internal state, the insurgency in Kashmir would have continued unabated. The Indian side of Kashmir is flush with government funds—and perhaps hawala money. For a state that has witnessed two decades of insurgency, it shows amazingly low poverty levels.
Waheed has not had the courage to state the simple fact that Pakistan and ISI have been fomenting jehad in Kashmir. He is dealing in half-truths.
A.K. Ghai, Mumbai
We must sift fact from fiction. I’m sure many of those buried in unmarked graves near the LoC are militants trying to sneak into India and gunned down by our security forces.
Gurudev Shorey, Houston
As far as I know, no one has claimed that the 2002 election in Kashmir was rigged. Voting percentage was as high as 70, despite separatist calls for a boycott. As for people’s behaviour, as John Rowan shows in his book The Structured Crowd, even two per cent of a population can convey the impression of being the voice of all.
R. Saroja, Mumbai
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
Dear Mr. Waheed,
It is indeed tragic that some innocent people have fallen prey to Kashmir uprising. While fate of those who chose arms for fighting for their beloved cause has gone on expected lines, the fate of those who did not see eye to eye with their cause (Kashmir's minorities) bore the burnt of the conflict as well. They had to leave their home to be branded as migrants in their own country and a full generation of them had to live in sub human conditions. Also since the Kashmiri muslims chose to go to war with the Indian state, at the behest of their ''well wisher' Pakistan they should have been aware of its repurcussions. I hope you appeciate the fact that no country in world treats its secssionists in a better way than India does. You can take examples of China, Pakistan, Srilanka etc. I would also like to know how you suggest India should tackle its secssionist regions.
Now Mirza Waheed has an article on the same subject in today's New York Times.
Do the samething in Britain and they will send you in one piece to Kashmir for growing saffron with AK 47 rifle to gaurd your fields.
How can you define Person like Mirza Wahid. These persons are focussed on muslim sufferings and those who were terrorists. They are not concerned by the ethinic cleansing of Kashmiri Pandits, Hindus and Sikhs and sufferings and killing of armed forces fighting the Pak sponsered insurgancy in J & K. By calling Indian and Kashmiri, he is dividing the two. He studied in India and now lives in Britain. Watch this traiter do to these countries God knows. Indians and Britishers should be beware for such kind of persons
R Saroja >> Because of special status of Jammu and Kashmir, J &K Governor has different powers from that of other states,When Jagmohan went in as Governor in 1990, VP Singh was PM
The powers of Governor of J&K do not override the overwhelming power vested with the Union Government, when there is a Governor's rule. So your argument is futile and flawed.
The point is, ethnic cleansing of Kashmir Pandits should be blamed (apart from the valley fundamentalists) on the inept administrations of Rajeev Gandhi and VP Singh too..
Just FYI,Jagmohan,atleast till mid 1990s was a quintessential congie, dynasty man. In contrast the era of relative peace in J&K began when the NDA/BJP leaning SK Sinha took over the post of governor. But as i said, the left is jaundiced and simply dont acknowledge the good role played by NDA rulers in bringing some peace to this state.
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