NGOs: Dig deeper for more unmarked graves

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By: Dilnaz Boga
The epitaph Namaloom Shaheed is carved on the tombstone of a boy buried a stone’s throw away from Lal Chowk in Srinagar. The 15-year-old, killed in 2003 by the Border Security Force, is lucky to have a gravestone unlike other unmarked graves strewn across the Valley.
While a recent Jammu and Kashmir State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) report revealed that 2,156 unidentified bodies were found in 38 unmarked sites in North Kashmir, NGOs allege that villagers have buried several unidentified bodies inside and outside their graveyards after they were handed over by security forces. The number could be as high as 6,500. They now want the SHRC to probe such graves in the rest of Kashmir too.
In South Kashmir’s Shopian district, residents recall details of bodies that surfaced over the years.“It was the police or the armed forces that handed bodies to the Aukaf Board for burial. How can we question them about the identity of the bodies? We just buried them,” said a villager. The middle-aged man describes how he stumbled upon a body on the street a few years ago.
“Someone had cut off his ears and there were marbles in place of his eyes.” That body was laid to rest in Bungam. Similarly, a park that shares a fence with Shopian police station is where villagers buried eight mutilated bodies that they found in the past years.
Despite repeated phone calls to Col Brar, the defence public relations officer in Srinagar, DNA received no response.
In Kralsangri Braine in the outskirts of Srinagar, a local leads the way to a burial spot behind a CRPF camp. “A body was found in the Dal Lake ten years ago. The man’s face was mutilated. A second body was found with a bullet in its torso in 2009. We found his identity card, which stated that he was a student from Rajasthan. Nobody claimed him.”
In Dhamhaal – Hanjipora in Kulgam district, three nameless bodies lie buried opposite the police station. No one is ready to share any details about them. Just outside the village, a local recalls how the police brought a body from Heerpora and instructed them to bury it. The man’s throat had been slit.
Fifteen more bodies were found in Kulgam district’s Ganaiepora where villagers are hesitant to talk. “We got electricity after 12 years, I don’t want to jeopardise that. We don’t want to be harassed by the forces after you leave,” said a resident.
In Harwan, outskirts of Srinagar, behind Chadpora police station, eight unmarked graves exist. Residents recall that security forces buried the bodies six years ago. “There was a crackdown at the time as they wanted us to stay away,” the resident said.
It was by collecting details on unidentified bodies from primary sources like members of the local Aukaf Board (those in charge of burial formalities), gravediggers and local residents that NGOs managed to coerce the SHRC to conduct a formal probe, which eventually led to legal exhumations and forensic testing that resulted in the SHRC’s recent report that received international attention.
The consequence is that NGOs are now finding it increasingly hard to complete their documentation of such atrocities. A local activist alleges police harassment. “I’ve been assaulted, they tap my phone, we are always under surveillance.”

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