India buries dissent in Kashmir

BY ANIL CHOUDHARY

Mass graves found in Kashmir in 2008. 2,600 fresh graves were discovered last year.

Nearly 2,600 bodies have been discovered in single, unmarked graves and in mass graves throughout mountainous Indian-controlled Kashmir. The International People’s Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice (IPTHJ), an Indian Kashmir-based human rights organization, claimed that they found the graves in 55 villages during a three-year survey that concluded in November. Out of the 2,600 graves discovered by IPTHJ, they claim that 177 graves held more than one body. This report is one of the most damning pieces of evidence of the ‘crime against humanity’ perpetrated by the Indian armed forces in their occupation of the disputed territory of Kashmir.

The Muslim-dominated region of Kashmir has been a disputed territory right from the independence of India and Pakistan in 1947 and has been the source of conflict for more than half a century. While both countries claim the region, it is the civilian population of Kashmir that has paid the price of the conflict. In contested claims, more than 68,000 people have lost their lives in Indian-occupied Kashmir in the past two decades alone and have witnessed three conventional wars.

The latest report, if accurate, only goes to prove the brutalities encountered by the Kashmiris at the hands of the Indian armed forces. The Indian occupation of Kashmir casts a dark shadow over India’s shining image as the largest democracy in the world. Indian democracy prides itself on freedom of speech and expression and the right of its people to dissent. But the manner in which the dissent of the Kashmiri population has been crushed illustrates that India still has a long way to go to be a real functional democracy. Over the past couple of decades, it has been alleged by various human rights groups that the Indian military has killed a large number of Kashmiri youth in “fake encounters”, dubbing them “Pakistani terrorists”. In April, 2008, Amnesty International appealed to the Indian government to investigate hundreds of unidentified graves — believed to contain victims of unlawful killings, enforced disappearances, torture and other abuses — to no avail.

The starkest feature of these recent findings is that there was no coverage of the report by the Indian media. Having stumbled upon this shocking report in the New York Times when sitting in the U.S., I sought the perspective of the Indian media. To my disbelief and horror, there was not even a single mention about this report in all the leading Indian dailies and news channels, while all of the major international media groups had covered the story.

So what does this tell about Indian democracy? The truth of brutalities in Kashmir have always been kept a secret to the nation. The Indian state has, for decades, been suppressing the largely non-violent dissent of Kashmiri people against the militarization of Kashmir. The Indian state has used the divisive propaganda of militancy and religion as tools to suppress any kind of dissent against its forced occupation of the region. The Indian state has tried to keep not only the international community in the dark about its hostilities toward Kashmiris but also the local Indian population, by controlling media reports of the real situation on the ground in Indian occupied Kashmir.

A democracy which suppresses dissent by means of violence is the most vulgar form of democracy, if at all it can be called ‘democracy’. The successful attempt by the Indian state to keep the Indian populace in the dark about such damning reports questions the validity of its claim to be the largest functional, pluralistic democracy.

Kashmir is not the only place where the Indian government has responded with violence in the wake of dissent. The rising tide of the left-wing Indian Maoists group (termed “Naxalites”), predominant in East India, have constantly faced violent retaliations for their dissent against the capitalist regime of the Indian state. The people of neglected regions of northeastern India have been the subject of torture by the Indian military forces for decades for their demand of more autonomy for the region.

Unfortunately, the resort to violence against any kind of dissent is not a new phenomenon for the Indian state, either. The princely states of Junagadh and Hyderabad were annexed by the Indian state by use of force when these states declined to be part of the newly formed independent Indian state.

But India’s use of violence to vitiate dissent has long been kept under the wraps of propagandist theories of a functional pluralistic democracy. India has projected itself, not only to the international community, but also to its citizens, as being a soft, liberal state. But events, past and present, prove otherwise.

Anil Choudhary is an LL.M. student from India.

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