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Kashmir: Forgive And Forget

By Burhan Majid

10 February, 2012

Ever since the third generation Abdullah rose to throne as the State’s
Chief Minister, he continues to bat for the setting up of the Truth
and Reconciliation Commission(TRC) which, he believes, would help to
find out the truth behind the widespread atrocities perpetrated, by
the Government forces, in the State of Jammu and Kashmir. The setting
up of the commission received more attention after the discovery of
thousands of unmarked graves in the Valley by the State’s Human Rights
Commission (SHRC). The discovery is only a vindication of the
assessment by the rights groups.

If you log into Wikipedia, an online information data base, it defines
a truth commission or truth and reconciliation commission as a
commission tasked with discovering and revealing past wrongdoing by a
government (or, depending on the circumstances, non-state actors
also), in the hope of resolving conflict left over from the past. Over
the years since the first of its kind in South Africa(1995), it has
been seen that the establishing of such commissions is a post conflict
resolution phenomenon. The commission is relevant when there has been
a civil war and the warring communities need to be reconciled. The
South African TRC came into being after the policy of apartheid had
been abolished in the country. The draconian laws that ruled the Black
community till then had been repealed, giving people a raison d'être
to believe that positive steps are being taken. In Kashmir, however,
the situation is diametrically opposite. It is neither a post war
situation nor has there been a conflict or a clash between different
communities. In the State, the Government forces are still engaged in
the rights violations. The draconian laws like Armed Forces Special
Powers Act continue to be in place under which the perpetrators of the
crime enjoy impunity. The crime goes on.

Second, the major theme of the truth commissions has been the
principle of “forgive and forget.” Among its foundational theories is
one of ‘restorative justice,’ as opposed to ‘retributive justice.’
Offenders are encouraged to take responsibility for their actions, "to
repair the harm they've done—by apologizing, returning stolen money,
or community service." Does the Chief Minister mean the same thing?
This might be a preference now for the mainstream politicians owing to
their failure in prosecuting even a single offender of the crime down
the line since 1990.

Third, the truth and reconciliation commissions are essentially
non-judicial bodies that try to establish what happened during a
conflict or during a transition between an authoritarian form of
government and a democratic one. Thus regarded, they do not have the
power to punish perpetrators which the Kashmiris are demanding for a
long time now. To punish the offenders, courts are the appropriate
places, not the truth commissions. In Kashmir, the facts are as open
as anything, aren’t? Mass graves, forced disappearances, custodial
killings, rape, torture, arson, mischief etc. stand confirmed, aren’t
they? When everything is blatant, what more the Chief Minister needs?
Truth is out there, the only thing the rule of law demands is bring
the criminals to the book. The Chief Minister should have instead
asked for a War Crime Tribunal on the pattern of former Yugoslavia.
But the question is has he the guts?

It is a fact that most of the truth commissions across the globe have
resulted in granting the amnesty to the criminals. Truth commissions
have also been criticized for allowing crimes to go unpunished and
creating impunity for serious human rights abusers. So reconciliation
cannot be seen as a viable alternative to justice. Genocide, mass
killings, torture and systematic oppression of a people over an
extended period of time do not have to result in commissions of this
kind. Appointing a truth commission in such a state means rubbing salt
to the wounds, deception, time-buying, hushing up etc. If the
government is serious about justice, it needs to get rid of the
draconian laws immediately.

(Srinagar based Burhan Majid is a researcher and writer, can be mailed
at burhan.mjd@gmail.com)




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