The Unmarked Graves Of Kashmir
By Sheikh Saaliq
03 October, 2011
“For years, people whispered about the thousands of disappeared young men in Kashmir . But only now are the bones finally speaking”___ Basharat Peer.
T hey say the dead will speak, but when that remains a mystery. Not in this case. Yelling their un-heard voicesbeneath, they are crying their heart out from years. Screaming for their identity to be revealed, screaming for their beloved ones and screaming to be taken home, where they used to cherish their daily routines. Being the native of some unknown piece of landfrom decades they are kept unheard and untraced.Somewhere buried in the lap of sky high mountains, or submerged in the deep waters, they are being eluded from their identity and tagged “Un-Known” with their 7 feet long abode entitled “Mass graves”.
Having a look from outside these small mounds of soil may only look like buried with mere human bodies with most of them torn by bullets or mortar shells, but in fact these small pieces of land carry a long story of pain and grief for decades to narrate. From hundreds of either small or big Mass graves to only two, numbers differ and so do the ideas. In fact places also differ.Theso called biggest housing of the most number of Unidentified Mass graves of valley Uri, Kupwara and Baramulla,these graves also stretch up to Gurez, Bandipora, Tangmarg and other areas of Valley too.Mostly located in the best picturesque vicinity of the area these Graves which remained a mystery for years may give a look of a usual ancestral graveyard of the area but beneath these lay the untold hidden stories of torture, abductions and carnage. Apart from being located in the most scenic part of the area they do wear a barren look like every graveyard does but the screams of pain and the smell of dripped blood can be felt from a distance. A clear picture of brutal torture can be seen in front of the eyes. The route leading to these places as usually will definitely be pathetic as they felt nobody could reach here ever to see them lay here in silence, but time never do remain same. Among these places is a far flung cut off area from the modern and fashionable world outside which has seen almost 250 unknown burials with dripping blood and torn bodies laid in her lap. May it be an 8 year old girl or young and athletic twin brothers or as old as 60 “Bimbiyar” a small hamlet in Chahla Uri is among the biggest household of Unidentified Mass graves in the valley.
Situated in the lap of the lofty mountains with majestic Jhelum flowing down its feet Bimbiyar portrays an excellent scenic beauty as every Kashmiri village does. Passing through the narrow deteriorated roads of Bimbiyar one can feel that this vicinity holds something unveiled from years, a graveyard that has almost 250 unknown dead bodies under its earth. Stretched on almost 3 Kanals of land this graveyard used to be one of the ancestral graveyard of the inhabitants of this village, but during the making of L.J.H.P (Lower Jhelum Hydral Project,) just a half kilometer away from the graveyard which then was filled with the dugout remains of the project making a 10 feet new layer on the graveyard. With now wild thorns and a barbed fence adding to its suspense the graveyard looks full of mystery. Nobody found around the graveyard except a well-built building of a local hospital one has to found the closest attached to this graveyard. In a tiny mud-and-brick house, Raja Atta Mohammad, 70, the lone caretaker and the grave digger of these graves sits in the middle of the room which gives a close look of a house beholding something. Sitting on a torn piece of carpet with windows without glass panes widen open just to let the fresh air come in Atta Mohammad lays with an old wrinkled face with moist eyes ready to speak something in a gush. Atta, is the lone caretaker of this graveyard and he is the only one who holds every related story with this graveyard in his inner self. He is the one who has buried almost 235 unidentified dead bodies in this graveyard of Bimbiyar. He does not remember any names but picture of their faces have stuck in his mind. Recalling the day when he first buried an unidentified body in the year 2003 which was brought by some police officials to him. “It was a late evening in the month of Ramadan during the ending months of year 2003. I had come from my daily work and was waiting for Iftaar when suddenly SOG personnel came to my house and asked to accompany him as SHO was asking for me. I accompanied him and found I had to dig a grave for an Afghani militant which I first refused to do but later did so after request by SHO. This was the first dead body which I buried in this graveyard but later it was found that he was not Afghani but a native of Jal Sheeri Baramulla namely Bashir Ahmad Dar” says Atta Mohammad while pointing his fingers to the first grave at the starting of the graveyard. According to Atta Mohammad after that night he has almost buried 235 unidentified bodies after which he refused to do so and then police and army themselves buried around 15 more bodies in the graveyard not before the graveyard could not accommodate more bodies. Atta Mohammad being the only eyewitness of the unidentified bodies being buried recalls every single moment when he buried a dead body.
“Local police and army would come to me day after another accompanied by unidentified dead bodies as they would say and I buried them with proper Islamic rituals. I remember the day when they brought two dead bodies. It was horrible to see them as their whole body was torn and they were bruised fully. Their bones were visible too. I still remember their faces and the moment I saw them I knew that they were twin brothers. They hardly would have been in their twenties. I wept that time.” Says Atta Mohammad with his eyes stuck towards the graveyard. The agony and pain didn't only stop for the lone caretaker here only. Many people of his village tagged him an agent of police but he did his work with modesty performing his duty to bury the bodies with proper rituals.
Being father of 4 daughters and a son, Atta Mohammad has faced many problems. He had to stop his daily routine as he was mostly asked to dig the graves for unidentified bodies. According to him his health also deteriorated but he continued. “No one in the village had guts to even see the dead bodies. Every time they brought one he had a torn or ripped body. The blood oozing from his body and his face burnt with nothing to identify. We only hear the tales of what I have faced but only me and my Allah knows what I have seen” Atta Mohammad adds in a low tone. Burying hundreds of bodies in the graveyard Atta Mohammad never knew that he would also face something same as he is witnessing from years. His nephew Mohammad Saleem who was a daily wager was also killed and then tagged as an unidentified militant from across the border and buried in the same graveyard. “That day Saleem came to my house. He had a cup of tea and left before dusk to never return back. Next day police had come up with nine bodies but unfortunately I was not at home. They buried 5 bodies during night themselves and next day when I returned they made me to dug 4 more graves for the bodies. I did same and buried the remaining 4 too. But next day one of the villagers came to me and said that among the first 5 bodies one was of Saleem. I was shocked but recovered myself. ” Atta Mohammad narrates.After getting to know where his nephew's grave was he still did not exhumed his body as he calls it against religion. “I left his body there. He is “fit and faat” (in a good condition) there” Atta adds.
As the graveyard holds 250 bodies only few of the bodies have been identified by their family members and have been exhumed. The witness of that is the grave stones laid on some of the graves in Bimbiyar. Atta Mohammad recollects the data and points out some graves which are being exuded after proper identification. “Some among them were from Hygam Sopore, Pattan. Pulwama, Srinagar and Tangmarg. They were identified properly.” Atta Mohammad says. "The family members of the missing come to the graveyard to relieve themselves from pain and agony. They cry on the graves before leaving," he recounts. The people who came searching often had numerous questions for him. Answers to the questions would be taken back home, instead of the bodies of missing family member. "Some people used to ask me how the buried persons looked. Where they were hit? If they had any signs of torture on their bodies? "
The love and affection form Atta Mohammad towards these graves can be witnessed when he screams of anger when you slightly misplace your feet while walking in the graveyard on a single grave. He calls them “Shaheed” (Martyr) and says he can do anything for them. “They died for a cause and I am honored to witness and practice their last rites.” Says Atta Mohammad while his eyes remain stuck to graves. Atta, has many a times also buried more than 1 dead body in a single grave due to the unavailability of land. When this grave had no space left they buried the bodies in the neighboring graveyards of Kitchama, Mayaan, Lachipora, Limber and Boniyar.
With the issue of mass graves is on rise these days many reporters and journalist visit his home to gather any possible information but this makes him disappointed and irritated. When asked why he feels disappointed to talk with media persons he has a strong reason to defend himself. “Now I don't like mostly to talk to people like you. I gave every possible information to everyone from years but tell me what has been done till now. Not a single bodylaying may it be in this graveyard or anywhere else has been identified. Only false promises are being made. I only want these bodies which are waiting for their dear ones should be identified who they are and where from they are.”He says many prominent activists, journalists and separatists visited him and this graveyard and he kept giving same information to them but not more than 5-7 bodies were identified which he calls a shame.
Taking a look at numbers, The International People's Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Indian-Administered Kashmir (IPTK), a group of human rights activists led by a local rights group, published a report called "Buried Evidence" that established and conclusively documentedthe presence of 2,900 unmarked graves of unidentified people in three northern districts of the Kashmir Valley, close to the Line of Control, but now the numbers seem to be increasing as more and more mass graves came into light. Atta Mohammad says if the 2005 earthquake would not have occurred these mass graves would have never been found. "During the 2005 earthquake I met Khurram Sahib and during talks I told him about these graves and after that by his efforts the unmarked and mass graves came in front of the world" (Khurram Parvez, is an activist with Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, the main group within IPTK).
Numbers may exceed or vary to the world but to Atta Mohammad he will never forget the faces of 235 bodies which he laid to rest in the graveyard. He calls our society as insane and adds a spice to it by these lines in his torn English. “This is no Hindustan , This is no Pakistan . This is Dakistaan” (Neither is this India nor is this Pakistan . This is the land of carnage and atrocities). With his hope still alive he dreams of the day when all of these unidentified bodies will be respectfully taken home by the dear ones of these so called “UNIDENTIFIED”.
Sheikh Saaliq is 19. He is the chief editor of a monthly online magazine called The Vox Kashmir
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