The unidentified dead

Bringing the issue of the unmarked graves in J&K back into spotlight, State Human Rights Commission has recommended the DNA profiling of the bodies buried in 2080 such graves in Poonch and Rajouri. It has asked for the direction to be complied with within six months. Earlier in 2011, the SHRC had recommended the comprehensive forensic examination including DNA testing of the 2156 unmarked graves in North Kashmir’s Kupwara, Baramulla and Bandipora Districts.

However, since SHRC orders are only of recommendatory nature, the state Government at the time had declined to conduct DNA profiling of the bodies in unmarked graves arguing any such investigation would lead to law and order problems. The Government had also expressed its inability to undertake such an enormous exercise citing the lack of expertise and the means for such an investigation. Later, the Home Department’s action taken report stated that the DNA testing would be done only when a kin of the disappeared could locate the graveyard and the grave in which their relatives might be buried with a fair amount of certainty.

Speaking in the Assembly, the then J&K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah had offered a similar advice to the families of the disappeared persons, calling on them “to get in touch with the government, give the possible address of the graves their relatives are buried in and the government will then help in their DNA identification”. But the civil society groups and the kin of the disappeared rejected the Government suggestion, terming it an attempt to deny justice to the victims. They contend that should government want to go for such an investigation an EU Parliament resolution on Kashmir passed in 2008 “had offered financial and technical assistance to the Indian Government for such an inquiry”. 

With the SHRC yet again calling for the DNA identification of the people buried in the unmarked graves – this time those from Jammu province – a similar situation confronts the state.  Will state government accede to the direction this time? From all indications it is very unlikely that the state government will act on the SHRC judgement. The Government’s stated position over the issue has been that the people buried in these graves are largely the foreign militants killed on the border while infiltrating into the state. But the human rights groups insist that they are the people subjected to enforced disappearance in custody and that it was as such the responsibility of the government to lead their kin to the graves rather than the latter identifying them for the government.     It is, however, unlikely that this argument will be resolved in the near future. But this hardly detracts from the importance of the SHRC direction to the Government. For the people in the state, the importance of the recommendation lies in yet another official acknowledgement of the existence of the unmarked graves. It is extraordinarily significant that a government institution has admitted there are unmarked and mass graves in the state obliging it to answer for them sooner or later.







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