Lest We Forget: Unidentified Martyr In Lal Chowk’s Backyard

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By: Nazir Ganaie / Mayank Madhukar
Srinagar, Dec 11: “Na Maloom- Shaheed (Unidentified Martyr),” reads the epitaph of the unidentified grave of a 15-year old teenager, who was killed by the Border Security Force on Friday, September 5, 2003, at around 1:10 pm at Shiekh Bagh, near the historic city centre, Lal Chowk, here. “The deceased couldn’t be identified although his pictures were published in local newspapers.”
The small graveyard, in which a dozen locals, including the unidentified teenager are buried, is located adjacent to the Christian cemetery of British era, about 200 meters from the Clock Tower.
According to locals, the unidentified teenager was mentally challenged and he used to roam around The Bund daily. They said they never thought of witnessing the mentally challenged teenager in their own locality being shot dead. Though they waited for his identification, nobody turned up to claim his body.
“We had seen him roaming alongside The Bund before he was killed by the Indian paramilitary forces. We waited for his family, but nobody came, then we buried him here marking it as an “unidentified martyr,” said Abdul Aziz, (70), a shopkeeper on The Bund.
Recalling the incident, Aziz said, “On the fateful day, the teenager was trying to step into the Masjid near the Christian cemetery, but couldn’t as he lay in a pool of blood after being shot.”
“As the news of the young boy’s death spread, massive protests broke out in the locality during which the demonstrators fought pitched battles with the troopers. Several protesters, mostly teenagers, were injured,” he said.
“That day, the situation in the city was very tense. The boy had been shot outside the Masjid and the forces had reportedly claimed that they had recovered ammunition from him, which we disagree,” said the old man in his early 70s, adding “Then he should have been identified.”
As Kashmir Observer team was talking to the elderly man, more locals gathered and started asking about the unmarked graves in Kashmir and the impact of series of media reports that have been published or telecasted over the recent times.
“Why have you come to ask about the unidentified teenager, who was killed in cold blood? We have seen such cases happening during the 2-decade turmoil in Kashmir. What will happen then, nobody is going to listen and give them justice and you people come to file stories, which hardly make any impact with the rulers” the furious locals asked.
Meanwhile, talking to Kashmir Observer, noted human rights activist and coordinator of J&K Coalition of Civil Societies, Khurram Parvaiz, confirmed the existence of unmarked graves in the summer capital, saying that his group were working to ascertain information about other areas of the city before submitting its report to the Jammu and Kashmir State Human Rights Commission.
“We have identified four unmarked graves at Shaheed Mazaar (martyrs graveyard) in the heart of the city, eight at Harwan, and we are working in other city localities,” said Parvaiz, adding “We are compiling the data and will soon hand it over to the SHRC.”
However, he maintained there was lack of awareness among the masses about these unmarked graves in the valley.
“People have to be sensitized about the issue, so that more and more such cases are brought to light. In Srinagar, we find it quite difficult to collect the data as most such graves are scattered and people aren’t coming forward to provide information,” he said.
It may be recalled the Jammu and Kashmir State Human Rights Commission had recently released a report ‘Inquiry Report of Unmarked Graves in North Kashmir’ wherein high-profile official watchdog on human rights confirmed presence of 2,156 unidentified bodies at 38 sites in north Kashmir’s Baramulla, Bandipora and Kupwara districts.
The investigation was conducted by an 11-member Special Investigation Team under the supervision of a senior superintendent of police from the investigative wing of the SHRC, for over 3 years.
For long there have been allegations by human rights groups against the Indian forces in Kashmir for killing civilians in fake encounters and then claiming them to be militants.
The SHRC inquiry was initiated after it took suo moto cognizance of media reports and repeated claims by human rights groups, including Amnesty International, about the presence of unmarked ‘mass graves’ in Kashmir.
According to the SHRC report, there are 21 unmarked graves in Baramulla, 11 in Kupwara, three each in Bandipore and Handwara areas of north Kashmir. It says all the dead bodies had bullet injuries and had been handed over by the police to the local people for burial, classifying them as unidentified militants. Of the dead, a few bodies were defaced, five only had skulls remaining and there were at least 18 graves with more than one cadaver inside them. Of the more than 2,000 bodies lying in these mass graves in north Kashmir (reports say there are about 2,730 bodies in these north Kashmir graves) 574 had been identified as local residents by their kin and out of them 17 have been shifted to their native graveyards, while 2,156 bodies remain unidentified.
“There is every probability that these unidentified dead bodies buried in various unmarked graves at 38 places of North Kashmir may contain the dead bodies of enforced disappearances,” the SHRC report said, adding the government did not account for 1,692 bodies.
However, as per the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons, around 10,000 civilians have gone missing during the two decades of conflict pointing out that most of them went missing in custody, many of whom may have been buried in these unmarked mass graves.
The APDP is an association of people whose kith and kin disappeared during the turmoil, most of the family members claiming that their loved ones were picked up by the security forces never to be seen again. In 2008, the APDP released a report called “Facts Underground” in which it has mentioned the presence of unmarked graves in Kashmir.
The SHRC report calls for a probe into these mass graves by an ‘impartial agency’. “A proper FIR should be registered keeping in view the claims and investigated thoroughly by an impartial agency — not only in north Kashmir but across the state wherever such unmarked graves exist,” it says.
Those missing of Kashmir have been facing a strange identity crisis ‘neither dead nor alive’. Since there has been no trace of them for decades, no response from the government or the agencies that are accused of picking them up, it is hard to presume if they are alive or dead and it is their families who bear the brunt of the unending agony. Wives of such men live lives of ‘half widows’ who know not if their husbands are living or dead while their children keep searching for their fathers. Most of these youth would have been toddlers when their fathers were subject to enforced disappearance.

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