By Fahad Shah & Sheikh Saleem
He is a human rights lawyer and a civil rights activist. He graduated in Science from Srinagar in the year 1972 and then got his LLB degree at the Law College Aligarh Muslim University in 1975. Imroz joined the Jammu and Kashmir High Court as a lawyer in 1978. Since the end of the eighties, he has initiated and led campaigns for human rights in a context of grave violations, including killings, tortures and rapes, or forced “disappearances” with impunity. He is founder and President of the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) that works to build local alliances between Kashmiri civil society groups and provide legal help to the families of the victims. During these years of working for many issues, he was attacked by some men, a grenade was thrown at his house, and there were attempts to abduct him also. In this interview with The Kashmir Walla Editor, Fahad Shah and contributor Sheikh Saleem, Parvez Imroz says, “These attacks and intimidation did not deter us, we continued with our work.” Excerpts:
How do you see the government’s reaction to unmarked mass grave issue?
It has become huge issue internationally. Government’s response is that they have promised to consider the only one recommendation made by the SHRC (State Human Rights Commission) meaning the DNA testing.This is what they have said in the legislative assembly. But the list we have given them earlier to Chief Minister about 1417 missing people, they have not responded to that. All they have been doing is that they will be ‘looking’ into the issue. From the Union of India there is no response. Even the civil society groups in India are silent. We have been sending letters to Indian Prime Minister. Even local politicians from different political parties have been making statements that it is a serious issue, it has to be discussed but central government has not since yet made any statement.
What should be the legal action in this issue?
Within eight weeks time the recommendation of SHRC is to be considered by the state government whether they accept the recommendation or reject it. Chief Minister has stated in assembly that they will conduct DNA test.If they are partial, there are six recommendations made by the Commission. What about the other recommendations made by that SHRC. The government will be taking its position. They have responded to only one recommendation.
Legally speaking the matter can be entertained before the Supreme Court of India or Jammu and Kashmir High court, but importantly what about the other mass graves. Commission has accepted the report, made by Police Investigation Wing of the SHRC which has said nearly 2156 are the unidentified out of 2730 graves investigated by SHRC but they are restricted to three districts of North Kashmir only. The fact is that mass graves are present in all districts with exception in Jammu city probably.
We are demanding that existence of unmarked graves and mass graves be probed in all the districts. Let us first establish how many unmarked graves and mass graves actually exist in entire Jammu and Kashmir.
Do you think there can be unmarked graves?
After the SHRC concluded its investigation in North Kashmir, we submitted the prima facie evidence about the existence of 3844 unmarked graves in Rajouri and Poonch districts, which we have received from very credible and reliable sources. The SHRC has issued the notices to the District Magistrates of Poonch and Rajouri to to respond to these allegations. Now the next date of hearing at the SHRC in October 18, let’s see what will be the response of the government and what will be the follow up. May after the response from the District Magistrates of Poonch and Rajouri, the SHRC asks it Police Investigation Wing to again carry out a similar investigation as they did in north Kashmir.
What is your reaction to Chief Minister’s idea of Truth and Reconciliation Commission?
We believe that there can’t be reconciliation without justice. Once we are talking of justice it means that the perpetrators, who have to be identified, are brought to justice. Prosecution of perpetrators should be followed by reparations that are the part of the justice and then repression and other thing. Truth and Reconciliation Commission generally takes place in a post conflict scenario, while as in Jammu and Kashmir conflict still goes on. Then also we believe Omar Abdullah asking for a TRC because he believes that perpetrators cannot or may be should not punished. This impunity is in conflict with India’s claim of democracy and the rule of law.
They mean TRC on the pattern of South Africa; where reconciliation was required between two communities which by the way also invited lot of criticism because the perpetrators there were not punished or so there-by setting a bad precedent. We believe that there should be Truth and Justice Commission where justice prevails and creates a condition for everlasting peace. The other important thing is that who is to forgive? It’s not the Chief Minister who can forgive; it is the victims. The right is vested with victim whether they are willing to forgive or reconcile. It’s not for Human Rights defenders or Chief Minister to decide whether there can be reconciliation.
Do you feel any pressure for being a human rights activist for years now?
There have been. On June 30, 2008, there was attack on my home; grenade was thrown at my home. They wanted to abduct me, army was there. Then even European parliament passed resolution urging government of India to assure my protection and investigate into it. At that time we had disclosed only 940 unmarked graves in Uri sub district, in our first report, “Facts Under Ground”. These attacks and intimidation did not deter us, we continued with our work, publishing another report, “Buried Evidence” in 2009. The attack on me in 2008 was probably because of our work on unmarked graves and mass graves.
In past also, there have been attacks on me. On April 30, 2005, I was attacked when we laid the foundation stone for the memorial of disappeared person.
At 5:30 a.m. in the morning of April 30, a man knocked at my door. Sensing foul, we refused to open the door. The man kept on hitting the door, but by raising alarm, we secured the attention of my next door neigbours and relatives, because of which the person had to flee. We sent urgent action requests to human rights groups around the world, including to Amnesty International.
What are further issues of IPTK/APDP (International People’s Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Kashmir and Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons) apart from unmarked graves or disappeared persons?
APDP is making profiles of disappeared persons and soon with the support of IPTK a report on the issue of Enforced Disappearance will be published. IPTK is separately working on the issue of torture as well. In Jammu and Kashmir, we have one hundred thousand torture survivors who have been severely tortured. Who have almost developed one or the other deformity? Unfortunately,in Jammu and Kashmir torture issue is the highest form of Human Rights violation, second is killing. Torture is not given so much attention. There is no desired documentation unlike disappeared which has made it the issue before the international community. Torture has not, it is a huge issue. Many torture victims have died and they don’t figure anywhere. They may have apparently died a normal death but they died after four or five years because of torture effect like kidney failure etcetera. Last year officially 5000 persons were arrested. A huge percentage out of them has been tortured.
Do you feel issues like unmarked graves are not reported well in local media?
No. Local media is mostly controlled by government. It is not only due to government pressure but they are willing themselves because of advertisement and other things.
Indian media has highlighted it. It was a pleasant surprise and after it was first leaked, it was reported by Indian Express followed by other. Then stories were carried by electronic media and which is welcomed here. Whatever the reason, they have highlighted it and resulting that it is an issue now before Indian Civil society which should pressurize the government to take some position.
The issue was debated in J-K assembly. Are you satisfied with the way it was debated or you expected anything else?
I am not satisfied. You know the way it was presented. It was a like a formality. There were no clear positions. It is not the matter of statement. It is the matter of actions. Political parties have been making some noises about human rights abuses. State government is wants people to believe that they are very helpless. They are not very serious. They are not feeling accountable to people. It is clear that they are only accountable to Delhi. And for which they are competing and making these noises. They don’t mean anything. If you see conduct of mainstream parties, take PDP (People’s Democratic Party), in their 2002 elections manifesto they have said they will be holding a Commission to probe disappearances. After coming in power they did nothing. After coming to power their Law Minister said that there is already a Commission and we need not to make a parallel commission and we have to empower only SHRC. Soon after that the Chairperson of SHRC resigned and leveled serious allegations against government and said that SHRC exists only to hoodwink the world community.
Now the sections of Indian civil society after the SHRC report on unmarked graves are saying that state institutions are functioning in Kashmir, but the truth is that this report is just the tip of the ice-berg and we do not yet know what will be the follow ups. Keeping in view the example of Punjab, where thousands of Sikhs who disappeared, were found to be killed and cremated. Reports were written, noise made, human rights activist Khalra who brought light about disappearances in Punjab was disappeared and then case was taken to Supreme Court, where so far nothing tangible has come out for the families of victims.
You are fighting a case against the current Director General of Police the state? What is the case about?
Four people were abducted from Bhaderwah by Village Defense Committee and Special Police Officials. Three among them were later killed and their bodies thrown in river Chenab. One among them, Talib Hussain, who escaped spoke about the encounter. The families were fearing that there won’t be proper investigation so they approached National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and sought investigation by CBI because they were sure that higher police officials were involved in the matter under whose control VDC’s were working.
Then the police conducted a defective and weak investigation for formality. Then they filed a case of murder against one Mohammad Ashraf who was alleged to be responsible for abduction and killing. The weak and defective investigation resulted in the acquittal of Ashraf. Recently family came to know through Indian Express (newspaper) report about a parallel Crime Branch Investigation, which was ordered by then DGP on the instructions of NHRC. Crime Branch reinvestigation report by one Bachan Singh Chaudhary indicted the then Deputy Inspector General (of police) and who is now Director General of Police. This Crime Branch report was never submitted before the trail court, which ofcourse resulted in weakening the case and acquittal of the accused.
According to this Crime Branch report, the then DIG Kuldeep Khoda instructed and provided arms and ammunitions, and all the logistics to the killers. Kuldeep Khoda according to this Crime Branch report also had directed the driver of a Police vehicle to remain at the disposal of Mohammad Ashraf and his associates. It appears from the Crime Branch report Kuldeep Khoda knew fully what they are up to and even before and after the commission of the offence the killers had met him. The indictment of the then DIG was hushed up by transferring Bachan Singh Chaudhary. In the follow up report of Crime Branch by a lady Police officer, Shika Goel, the allegations were further substantiated and she further stated the tampering with evidence.
So we are questioning that, we are saying that keeping in view different cases in Supreme Court like Best Bakery case, Jessica Lal murder case, Priyadarshini Mattoo case, where high profile people were involved and managed acquittals in the trail courts, there should be a fair trial and re—investigation should be ordered which is the right of the victims and culprits be exposed and they be put on trial and they be interrogated. Also we do not know what happened to bodies as bodies were not found. Whether they throw them in river or buried in unmarked graves.
Is the Kashmir dispute reason for unmarked graves or the laws like AFSPA?
In the conflict, wherever there are disappearances, there are unmarked graves, before 90s we didn’t have unmarked graves because there were no disappearances.
We believe that it is of course impunity to forces; they can’t be prosecuted with the result they feel they are licensed to do anything, to kill. But more dangerous is moral impunity which they are getting from Indian civil society. They are morally justifying them. In 2002, at Gujrat, where more than 2000 Muslims were killed, there was huge outcry in India, huge media attention, it became a huge issue.
The widespread human rights abuses and now the admission of 2156 unmarked graves by a state institution has not shaken the conscience of Indian civil society, only few in Indian society spoke on this grave issue. They are indifferent towards us. So you can understand the moral impunity given to army. That is major factor behind this because these mass graves are crimes against humanity. There is complete apathy on the part of Indian civil society. Few people of course have talked but not on that scale as India has a vibrant civil society.
They are brave on talking about Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan but as on Kashmir they observe silence.
Photos: Zuhaib Muhammad