Kashmir is observing a raging debate over the recent revelation by the state Human Rights Commission investigations, pointing towards more than 2,000 unidentified bodies buried in 38 graves in Kashmir.
As chief minister Omar Abdullah demands a Truth and Reconciliation Commission on the lines of South African commission, Kashmir interlocutor Radha Kumar, an academician by profession, spoke to HT Principal Correspondent Peerzada Ashiq about the possibility and the need to address the graves issue.
Q: How do you, as interlocutor on Kashmir, view the SHRC revelations about the presence of unmarked graves?
Radha Kumar: I think the initiation of the investigation by the SHRC is a very important step in developing a watchdog state institution, and it opens a potential avenue for some of the parents of disappeared persons to find closure.
I would not want to raise false hopes because the issue is complicated.
Q: What are possible difficulties?
RK: It seems that it is a universal practice to mark graves, so some of them might not actually be of missing persons. Of those that are of unidentified persons, some might be of Pakistani militants and some of local militants, and then some might be of innocents who disappeared.
As the SHRC investigation report has not consulted police and auqaf records, the first step would be to check those, but following steps, such as Pakistani records of disappeared persons and/or missing militants, are unlikely to be provided. So how you go about getting permission for exhumation could be difficult.
Nevertheless, the government's promise to act upon parents/families' requests is very welcome as an acknowledgement of the moral right of parents/families of disappeared persons to have the support and cooperation of the government, and I fervently hope that such action will be able provide closure for some families at least.
Q: How do you see justice to be delivered in cases where civilians were allegedly killed in custody?
RK: All violations should be dealt with, but I could add that often action on one issue can open the space for a wider justice process. Only problem is, will the militants cooperate?
If they would enter a dialogue and declare an end to armed conflict then cooperation may be possible.Justice cannot be partial.
Q: There are many voices demanding a Truth and Reconciliation commission on the lines of African one, including chief minister Omar Abdullah. Do you think given the circumstances such a commission is possible?
RK: Truth and Reconciliation Commission will only be possible when India and Pakistan reach a settlement, and all the J&K stakeholders are on board. But it is a very important proposal because it alone will allow for the whole truth to come out, instead of only partial truths.
Q: Is it possible to start addressing the human rights abuses issue even before the dialogue process starts off or addressing such issues should be part of a composite dialogue?
RK: The human rights abuses of the militancy period should be distinguished as a separate time, and addressing them would require many stakeholders, including armed groups and their sponsors, to agree.
Today it is more possible to address any human rights abuses that are committed, both from a preventive and from a punitive point of view. But it is is always better if addressing such issues are part of a dialogue process because it builds confidence in the fairness of the process.
Q: Do you think addressing the unmarked graves issue is enough to heal the wounds inflicted by the two decades of armed struggle?
RK: No. There are many victims of conflict that are in marked graves - people killed by militants in their homes, for example - and there are many people maimed by conflict, both physically and mentally.
And the wounds aren't just of those who were directly physically wounded, there are identities that have been brutally altered by conflict, there is anomie, there are destroyed institutions, and the armed struggle has twisted politics, to mention but a few of the major wounds that will need healing.