Don’t look away from Kashmir’s mass graves and people’s struggle

A protester faces Indian paramilitary forces in Srinagar, Kashmir on 19 August 2011

ZUMA Press/Newscom

Last Summer, during a massive unarmed revolt against Indian rule in Kashmir, the writer Pankaj Mishra posed the following question about the situation in the territory. It remains as valid today as a year ago – especially after the recent discovery of thousands of bodies in mass graves:

Once known for its extraordinary beauty, the valley of Kashmir now hosts the biggest, bloodiest and also the most obscure military occupation in the world. With more than 80,000 people dead in an anti-India insurgency backed by Pakistan, the killings fields of Kashmir dwarf those of Palestine and Tibet. In addition to the everyday regime of arbitrary arrests, curfews, raids, and checkpoints enforced by nearly 700,000 Indian soldiers, the valley’s 4 million Muslims are exposed to extra-judicial execution, rape and torture, with such barbaric variations as live electric wires inserted into penises.

Why then does the immense human suffering of Kashmir occupy such an imperceptible place in our moral imagination? After all, the Kashmiris demanding release from the degradations of military rule couldn’t be louder and clearer. India has contained the insurgency provoked in 1989 by its rigged elections and massacres of protestors. The hundreds of thousands of demonstrators that fill the streets of Kashmir’s cities today are overwhelmingly young, many in their teens, and armed with nothing more lethal than stones. Yet the Indian state seems determined to strangle their voices as it did of the old one. Already this summer, soldiers have shot dead more than 50 protestors, most of them teenagers.

The tolls of last summer’s unarmed uprising, violently suppressed by Indian forces with live fire, eventually rose to more than 100. And, though Kashmir is even less in the headlines today, protests and abuses – particularly the arrests and mistreatment of teenage boys – continue.

For decades, until today, the two-thirds of Kashmir under Indian control has been ruled under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, emergency rule as repressive as the worst Arab dictatorship.

Mass graves uncovered

If all the suffering of the living in Kashmir has not succeeded in awakening international concern, the recent revelations of mass graves must. Amnesty International reported on 22 August:

Following a report by a police investigation team, confirming the existence of unmarked graves containing bodies of persons subject to enforced disappearances, urgent action needs to be taken including preserving the evidence and widening the investigation across Jammu and Kashmir said Amnesty International today.

Over 2700 unmarked graves have been identified by the 11-member police team of the State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) in four districts of north Kashmir. Despite claims of the local police that the graves contained dead bodies of “unidentified militants”, the report points out that 574 bodies have been identified as disappeared locals - 17 of these have already been exhumed and shifted to family or village grave sites.

The police report concludes that there is “every probability” that the remaining over 2100 unidentified graves “may contain the dead bodies of [persons subject to] enforced disappearances.” The report further clarifies that the only way to negate such a claim is to study the DNA profiles of the unidentified dead bodies and warns that in the absence of such tests, “it has to be assumed/ presumed that [the] State wants to remain silent deliberately to hide the Human Rights violations.”

While Amnesty welcomed this report, it calls on Indian authorities:

to initiate thorough investigations into unmarked graves throughout the state. All unmarked grave sites must be secured and investigations carried out by impartial forensic experts in line with the UN Model Protocol on the disinterment and analysis of skeletal remains.

The fact that an investigation has reached this point at all is to India’s credit, but given its appalling record in Kashmir, there is little reason to believe that India will provide justice for victims without strong pressure and exposure.

The silence of the liberals

While almost every other week, the United States issues orders to this or that country’s leader to step down, or to (very selectively) “respect human rights,” the Obama administration has been totally silent about the crisis in Kashmir. During his visit to India last year, Obama did not mention it.

In US media and establishment discourse, India is often presented as a colorful, “vibrant democracy” with a booming economy and an emerging middle class which is eyed hungrily by American corporations looking to export consumer goods – or jobs to India’s cheaper labor force.

I was reminded of the general obliviousness to the situation in Kashmir by a recent comment on Twitter from Princeton Professor Anne-Marie Slaughter, former Director of Policy Planning in Obama’s State Department, on the occasion of India assuming the chairmanship of the UN Security Council:

I can’t think of an occasion when I have heard American establishment intellectuals call for a “serious international response” to the repression in Kashmir; and surely if India wants to “distinguish itself” in international leadership it should deal frankly with the situation in Kashmir.

Israel and India, Hindutva and Zionism

Although the crisis in Kashmir is off the media radar – and that of many writers and activists concerned with Palestine – thanks to many people in Kashmir I have encountered via Twitter, I have become more educated about the situation. Nonetheless, in recent years, the patterns of Indian behaviour and discourse around Kashmir have come to closely resemble those of Israel toward the Palestinians.

This has been particularly true with the rise of Hindutva over the past two decades – an extreme form of Indian nationalism which views Muslims as alien and often denigrates them in ways familiar to Palestinians subjected to such dehumanizing discourses from Islamophobic Zionists and their allies in Europe and the United States.

Hindutva nationalists and Zionists often try to reframe the “conflicts” not as ones over human and political rights, sovereignty, consent and self-determination, but as being caused by irrational and implacable “Muslims” and “Islamists” who if not confronted and stopped will take over the world. In this context, all the repression and state violence to which millions of people are subjected is justified in the name of “fighting terror” and defending “democracy” and “civilized values.”

And, as Yasmin Qureshi pointed out in an analysis for The Electronic Intifada, Zionist and Hindutva groups are increasingly cooperating on US university campuses to try to shut down discussions of both Palestine and Kashmir.

India-Israel alliance aids repression

The cooperation moreover is not just discursive: India has greatly increased its military ties with, and weapons purchases from Israel – including drones. And Shin Bet and other Israeli agencies responsible for human rights abuses and extrajudicial executions of Palestinians and Lebanese have provided training and advice to India on how to suppress the people of Kashmir.

“My most recent film is about the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front in India. I am not allowed in India anymore. Interestingly, India is one of the biggest arms trade partners of Israel,” Israeli filmmaker Udi Aloni told The Electronic Intifada last year, “India uses the same tactics against the Kashmir people as Israel does against the Palestinians.”

Justice must not be delayed

Ultimately there can be no solution to the question of sovereignty over Kashmir – a painful remnant of British colonialism – until the region’s people are given the right to determine their future, a promise made and long denied to them, free from manipulation by India or Pakistan, which controls most of the rest of the territory (China also occupies a smaller segment). Pakistan has its own ignoble record of interference in Kashmir and using its people as pawns in its conflict with India.

In the meantime, India’s global image as a “vibrant democracy” should not be allowed to obscure the reality of mass repression – and mass graves – or to delay justice for the victims any further.

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There are so many similarities in both of us. But the one thing that keeps us together like blood and soul is the never-say-die spirit in us.
If there is a place in the world where there's the most respect for the Palestinians its Kashmir.
We need more such write-ups even from Kashmiris (bloggers) on their views of Palestine.
Sout-el-Houriyeh emanates from the Palestine and Kashmir...

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The rest of India has not economically blockaded J&K. Indian law protects J&K from any demographic engineering or from the rest of India buying land in J&K. So India is not encroaching on J&K like Israel is on Palestine. If anyone has engaged in selective murder and mayhem it is the Kashmiri militants who have driven out most of the Hindu population from the Valley of Kashmir. You quote the 80,000 killed and fail to mention that more civilians were killed by the militants than by the government. Nor do you mention justice for those killed by the militants.

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I believe Kashmir is not Pakistan’s problem. Kashmir is India’s headache. Pakistan should leave Kashmir alone, as we have our own share of internal problems to deal with. Water, electricity, terrorism and corruption to name a few, we can’t even take care of the Kashmir we have.
I am not impressed with this article at all. It starts with Kashmir and somehow ends up with India buying arms from Israel. Actually, I wouldn’t even consider this an article it’s more of cut and paste job of misplaced affections. Am I being a bit harsh here? Maybe but that is not my intent at all.

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btw since 2001 (post 9/11) pakistani interference in kashmir has pretty much dried up (hence the terror attacks on the pakistani army from punjabi militants who were abandoned in kashmir after musharraf pledged allegiance to the war on terror). however the brutality of the indian occupation has only gotten worse, even in the face of non-violent, broad based protests asking for independence. yes, pakistan was a factor in the past (just like india was in bangladesh and still is in balochistan) but it's been a decade. let's talk about the indian occupation now.

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You have no proof that India is a big factor (if any factor) in Baluchistan. Like India, you look for a foreign hand to sweep away any consideration of your own bad foreign policy in the province.

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India's problems with Kashmir predate the rise of Pakistan-backed militancy in the late 80's. Before this period (with its terror attacks and assaults on Kashmiri Hindus) the Indian government subjected the state to military rule and screwed around with local elections, alienating the population further (it already failed to uphold the simple UN-mandated pleibiscite). That and the fact that Kashmiri Hindus were somewhat wealthier and better connected to the Indian state fueled local resentment that coupled with Pakistani militant propaganda proved too much for many Kashmiri Hindus. It's rather quaint how many Indians go on about the Kashmiri Hindus, using them to whitewash any sin they've committed in Kashmir. As if the long history of brutally suppressing dissent prior to the Kashmiri Pandit situation was nonexistent. I don't deny that what happened to the Kashmiri Pandits was wrong and unforgiveable but if other Indians want to be sincere about a Kashmir solution, they must stop hiding behind the situation of the Pandits when faced with accounts of their own crimes in Kashmir. Besides, prior to the 80's, most Kashmiri groups were secular and even afterwards, local groups (as opposed to Pakistan backed militants like Lashkar e Taiba) have unwaveringly called for Pandits to return to the valley. Perhaps some calls are more full hearted than others but it proves that it would be pure exaggeration to paint the entire Kashmiri freedom struggle as two-dimensionally anti-Hindu.
The same goes for Pakistan, which shamelessly uses Kashmir for its own regional war with India, only poisoning once peaceful communal relations between Kashmiris and flooding the greater region with a militant menace that shows few signs of going away too soon. Never mind its flagrant disregard for the ethnic rights its own provinces, be it the former East Bengal or Baluchistan. Both India and Pakistan need to better engage the aspirations of the Kashmiri people.

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First of all, I thank EI in general & Ali Abunimah in particular for such a stunning job it really make me feel exult. Also I tend to jot down few lines about Kashmir. Kashmir being a disputed territory is an issue of broken promises and India's attitude in it is utterly unrealistic. It is very unfortunate that Indian leadership and Indian government are not accepting the hard facts that elections & relief packages will neither solve Kashmir dispute. Packages & rehabilitations are mere eyewash, aimed at be-fooling international community with a deception that New Delhi is busy in dialogue with Kashmiris.

No talks will be held with India until India accepts Kashmir as disputed region, withdrawal of troops from civilian areas, release all political prisoners. Draconian laws like AFSPA in Kashmir show India’s Fascist face.

As per Harvard Law Record, nearly 2,600 bodies have been discovered in single, unmarked grave & in mass graves throughout mountainous Indian-occupied Kashmir. The International People's Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice (IPTHJ), an Indian Kashmir-based human rights organization, claimed that they found the graves in 55 villages during a 3 year survey that concluded in November. 74% to 95% percent Kashmiris want Independence. Senior researcher Robert W Brandnock in his survey “Kashmir: Paths to Peace”, which says 79% people of erstwhile princely state of Kashmir voted against India.

Regarding the Kashmir pundits they were never forced by Muslims of Kashmir to leave valley infact they were befooled by that time governor Jag Mohan to move to Jammu as he plotted to kill all Kashmiri Muslims but God shattered his scheme. we always welcome pundits to reside again in Kashmir. Indian media is biased & so they always try to cajole & defame the unity of kashmiris but they should know that this is 10 million peoples movement & they cant shackle it even in their dreams

"The laws which are not acceptable to Kashmiris can’t be implemented here”

Ali Abunimah

Ali Abunimah's picture

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books.

Also wrote One Country: A Bold-Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Opinions are mine alone.