The case for truth and reconciliation commission


Every time one thinks that life in Kashmir has returned to its normal course and hopes that no more innocent lives are lost, the hope gets mercilessly shattered with news of young boys dying in protests. Death is not new to Kashmir. Here seasons’ change, moods change, governments change but the only thing that remains constant is the loss of innocent life. Since the nineties, fake encounters, extra-judicial killings, internal displacements, disappearances etc have marred the struggle for a permanent solution of the conflict. Unfortunately, in focussing on the political aspects of the discourse, the concept of justice to the people, has taken a backseat.

In terms of a concrete measure, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission can be established, by the central legislature aided by International jurists, as a sincere manifestation of its commitment towards addressing the massive human rights abuses that have plagued Kashmir over decades, with an eye on restoring the dignity of individuals.

Historically TRCs are instituted by the State/regime in power, post the conflict period. This has been cited as a reason to keep its formation in abeyance, given the ongoing armed conflict and widespread civil unrest in Kashmir. However, the open ended nature of the Commission’s mandate offers a window of opportunity, if the period to be probed pertains to the past, say the troubled nineties. So a specific mandate, with an inclusive term of reference, that cover actions by state as well as armed non state actors to investigate and document the truth behind the dark period in the Valley’s past, namely, the forced disappearances, the unmarked graves, the pandit exodus and the extra judicial killings in detention camps, may open the door for justice that has long eluded Kashmir.

Further an effective reparations policy is a must, as it comprises the most tangible efforts of atonement, bearing a direct impact on the victim’s welfare. Official public apologies, a specialised health care program for survivors, pension for victims and victims’ families, rehabilitation of the internally displaced persons as well as symbolic reparation via identification of the mass graves, memorialisation of victims, publicly listing names of the disappeared and the dead, disclosure of offenders’ names and vetting in official posts to avoid recidivism are important measures in redressing past abuses and regaining the lost trust.

Equally, holding public hearings to record testimonies of victims, witnesses and perpetrators to officially acknowledge the truth must not be underscored as it has unparalleled effects on the sufferers’, survivors’, their families’ and the community’s psyche by providing due recognition of wrongs, creating an authoritative record, according responsibility and lifting the veil of impunity that offender’s enjoy by naming and shaming.

For the government, it provides the opportunity to shoulder meaningful responsibility of addressing the judicial aspect of a political problem that has been long skirted. Effectively it can extinguish long standing fires of distrust and alienation, while disengaging from the larger political scenario that requires a consensus, which is hard to achieve at present. Further, it strikes the right balance between maintaining the State’s authority and public accountability, while circumventing the question of allowing third party involvement, which has been the subject of much debate, thereby avoiding all discordant notes.  If successfully executed, it would amount to revitalising a moribund dialogue, significantly boosting the government’s credibility in the valley and would bring about a holistic closure for the masses while reiterating the state’s obligation towards fostering reconciliation with the people.



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