Dead Men Talking


They say that after much is said and done, much is said than done.

As more and more unmarked graves crop up in Kashmir, the lip service to the skeletal remains of those buried in them resonates across the political class. The idea of justice to those buried inside these graves, or to their near and dear ones is yet to be exhumed. Some quarters led by the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir Omar Abdullah have called for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission —a TRC. It’s not clear whether the offer for a TRC is a ‘we’ll-tell-you-the-truth-and-you-reconcile-with-it’ or a ‘we’ll-tell-you-the-truth-and-you-reconcile-with-us’ proposition.

The unmarked graveyard at Bimbyar, Uri where the gravedigger Atta Mohhamad says that he buried 236 bodies who were undentified.

The state wants no blame. After all it was fighting an insurgency, it asserts. Fighting however, is not quite the right word. The state was stamping out an insurgency, clearing it all up with a lawnmower like approach and efficiency. One sweep here: a few Kashmiris dead. Another swipe there: a few more mowed down. All put in convenient, nameless pits. No markings, no records, no proof. I abstain from referring to these pits as graves, since they weren’t intended as graves. These pits were dug to bury evidence and not as a mark of respect for those being put in them. Who would have thought that at some point, the cry for justice would pierce the wet Kashmiri earth?

Leave aside the lofty notions of justice, the idea of accuracy of numbers and the semantics of the legal debate for a while. How many Kashmiri skulls in how many graves does it qualify for a certain pit to be called a mass grave anyways? I don’t know. Let us all look up the Geneva conventions while the state looks for excuses, even as nears and dears of those disappeared assemble in Pratap Park, in tow with tattered photographs and frayed memories. Leave aside the burden of injustice and collective guilt. Objectively speaking, what does the detection of thousands of nameless graves tell you? For one it tells me that those who dumped people in these pits never expected to be caught, never expected to be questioned. They never thought that the dead would speak up, asking for accountability from those who put them there. Such is the arrogance with which these clear-ups were carried out, that the state did not follow the due process laid out in its very own rule books.

The state has of course taken a moral high ground, little realising that this time, that high ground could just as well be the mounds of the unnamed, unmarked graves

In his acclaimed debut novel, The Collaborator, Mirza Waheed talks of a valley dotted wild with yellow flowers growing amidst dead, rotting boys. Young idealistic Kashmiri boys crossing the border, shot like cardboard figures impersonally from a distance, dumped in the valley in an open air grave. Frightfully, not surprisingly though, as life imitates art (that was inspired by life) the focus sharpens on the injustices carried out by the Indian security apparatus in Kashmir just so that the Indian Prime Minister can repeat the ‘atoot ang’ yarn from the ramparts of the Red Fort, the injustices done to the people of Kashmir in the name of the story be damned. Why spoil a good story?

No one denies the presence of foreign militants among those dumped in pits en-masse. But how hard can it be for a purported superpower to photograph those that are being disposed off in the quest for maintaining that superpower status? The locals are just collateral damage in the blind, ruthless quest for territory.

The dead speak beyond the graves, their cry invariably amplified by those they leave behind. Their half lived, anti-climactic lives proof of the wrongdoing carried out months, years, decades ago in the name of a nation state that makes $30 Tablets named like surface to air missiles: Agni, Prithvi, and now Akash.  That very state is asking the survivors of the skeletal remains found in these pits to run from pillar to post to collect, deposit and get their DNA samples analysed to establish the veracity of their ‘disappeared’ claims.

The state has of course taken a moral high ground, little realising that this time, that high ground could just as well be the mounds of the unnamed, unmarked graves.

Raheel Khursheed is an independent freelance journalist currently based in Srinagar, Kashmir. His work has appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, ProPublica, BBC, The Wall Street Journal Online, Indian Express, Hindustan Times, CNN-IBN,, ANI-Reuters and a host of other outlets across the world.

Photo: Muhabit-ul-Haq

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