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India: For peace, end impunity in Kashmir

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The Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir has seen curfew for the last 41 days. Sixty-six persons have been killed, as a result of the “actions” of government forces. Most of the channels of communication remain blocked. It is reported that the authorities have gagged the media. There are concerns that even essential supplies are failing to reach most citizens. This is what the state has been witnessing in the last 41 days.

Violence, State-sponsored or by armed militants operating in the state, is nothing new to Jammu and Kashmir. The state is one of the more unsafe places of India, where peace is a daily casualty. Armed militant activities in the state and the Indian State's attempt to combat this has affected every aspects of life in Jammu and Kashmir since 1989, though there have been brief spells of calm.

A generation has grown up not knowing what peace; this is the state of the state. How many lives have been lost to conflict and how many have been disappeared and now feared to have been extrajudicially executed, either by State forces or by armed militants in Jammu and Kashmir, is anyone's guess. A large number of Indian armed forces personal also have lost their lives in the conflict, thereby increasing the human cost of this conflict to a high level.

Despite the intense nature of the conflict, the attempts made by the Indian State to find a sensible solution to the problem, at its very best, have been half-hearted. For instance, the State Human Rights Commission claims that it has proof regarding the burial of 2,156 bodies over the past 20 years in 40 gravesites spread across the state. The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has reported this in 2011.

The AHRC's partners, based on investigative research conducted between November 2006 and November 2009, documented 2,700 unknown, unmarked, and mass graves, containing 2943+ bodies, across 55 villages (in 62 sites within these villages), in Bandipora, Baramulla, and Kupwara Districts of Kashmir. Of these, 2,373 were unidentified and unnamed graves. So far, there has been no attempt whatsoever to undertake an independent investigation into this claim. At the very least, such an investigation would have been a confidence building gesture, and helped in cementing an assurance by the Indian State to the local population that the State is interested in protecting the people and not merely in retaining territorial control.

Despite the nature of the conflict, the Indian State cannot absolve itself from the constitutional and international law obligations that are binding. The Indian State cannot refuse its obligation to explain an estimated 70,000 and more disappearances reported from the state, so far. Merely passing it off as “persons who have illegally crossed over to Pakistan occupied Kashmir” validates the suspicion that the Indian State is involved in these disappearances. The refusal to investigate disappearances also rivets in public perception that the State and its forces are unaccountable, just like the militant forces operating in Jammu and Kashmir.

There would be no solution to the unrest, anger, and consequent bloodbath in Jammu and Kashmir until the Indian state starts engaging with the people of Jammu and Kashmir politically. A firm step in this direction is to account for the past violence that the Indian armed forces have committed in the state and to its people. There must also be processes put in place to ensure that, while combating armed militancy, State agencies do not commit crimes. Owning up to this responsibility is what differentiates an armed militia group and a disciplined State force. To pass off this responsibility with the excuse that it is engaged in combatting armed militants that are undermining the security of the State is not an option available to the Indian State.

Only when the Indian State owns up its responsibility, internally, can it effectively protect its citizens from being devastated by militancy and external threats. It is only then that the people state of Jammu and Kashmir could be expected to have a meaningful conversation with the Indian State.

Asian Human Rights Commission: About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984