In 2014 as Israel was pounding bombs on Gaza, Nobel laureate and Holocaust survivor Ellie Wiesel wrote an advertisement published in major newspapers worldwide comparing Hamas with Nazis accusing them of “child sacrifice.” Wiesel was criticized, and rightly so, for justifying Israel’s crimes in Gaza. Publishing an advertisement, which other Holocaust survivors described as ‘abuse of history’ Wiesel was taking sides—the side of the oppressor.
The recently released report ‘Structures of Violence: Indian State in Jammu and Kashmir’ by Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) through its constituents The International Peoples’ Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Indian-administered Kashmir (IPTK) and Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) in its epigraph quotes lines from Wiesel’s Nobel acceptance speech: “We must take sides.” In the case of Palestine, Wiesel has taken the side of oppressor. By quoting him, the report should have taken into account his politics, which is using Jewish suffering to justify Jewish crimes in Israel. For a Palestinian the lines, despite their universality, are insensitive and insulting to their memory. Gaza does not ‘become the center of universe’ when its civilians are killed, rather Wiesel supports the oppressor.
And what do these lines mean for a Kashmiri suffering oppression under Indian rule? Perhaps nothing but the lines resonate in him since it catches his imagination for showing the contradiction in Wiesel’s thought about Jews and Palestinians. It also explains to him the larger questions about Indian civil society that he has in his mind. Can they disown the crimes that are committed in their name in Jammu and Kashmir? Which side are they on? Or by remaining largely silent, have they already decided that. Can they claim neutrality in this war waged by India in Kashmir? No doubt, from 1990, Indian civil society has engaged with the question of Kashmir more vigorously but for majority of them the question of occupation eludes, always. In fact, they turn apologetic for India’s rule in Kashmir. Even the brazenness of the violence that accompanies Indian occupation in Kashmir does not hit them.
A whole population that challenges the Indian rule is identified as an enemy that can be dealt with only through exceeding violence. On the ground, a cobweb of military installations and camps acts as an instrument for the military to identify, persecute, and maintain a hold on the local population. In Kashmiri rural areas, one finds an army camp after every three kilometers and in some places, the pervasion is even deeper. Indian army and police often make rounds through the localities either on foot or in their heavily armored vehicles for strategic area domination thus intruding into the daily lives of the people. Mere physical presence of military in a civilian area leads to coercion and in Kashmir where Indian army acts as an occupational force, the violence reaches to maddening levels. The Indian State in order to protect its army puts a network of other institutions particularly judiciary, media and bureaucracy to mask the crimes committed by its ‘sacrosanct’ forces. All these institutions along with executive and legislature can be collectively identified as Structures of Violence.
Over the past few years, there has been a checkered response from the international community particularly International NGO’s who have reduced Kashmir conflict to a mere Human Rights issue neglecting the larger demand of self-determination. It also coincides partly with the Indian state narrative that there are only a few ‘aberrations’ when it comes to Human Rights. Further, the Indian State identifies these aberrations with individual misdeeds and not with the overall structures of violence that work in tandem to produce an unimaginable degree of impunity, which is then conferred on the forces. Impunity, thus, achieves a status of a natural right.
It thus becomes necessary ‘to understand and analyze the role of the Indian State in Jammu and Kashmir’ and ‘to bring in focus the patterns, scale and structure of violence.’ The voluminous 804-page report is in continuation to the earlier work of JKCCS particularly the 2012 report titled Alleged Perpetrators: Stories of Impunity in Jammu and Kashmir that highlighted names of 500 perpetrators from Indian army, and other armed forces active in Kashmir. Besides talking of institutional impunity to the forces in Jammu and Kashmir, the report focused on individual criminality and argued that individuals are involved in the commission of crimes, so they must be held responsible. Taking a step further from Alleged Perpetrators report that assigned individual criminality, this time the focus is on the ‘structures of violence’ in which the individual perpetrators are mere agents of violence in the larger occupational structure.
The structures of violence as visible on the ground such as army camps, intelligence agencies and other armed forces if placed on a map as green dots, the map would look a lot greener than Kashmir Valley itself. The report places the number of Indian forces between 656, 638 and 750,981 with the report writers arguing that it is high time for Indian state to dispute these figures. It also documents extra-Judicial killings of 1080 persons and enforced disappearances of 172 persons with numerous cases of torture and sexual violence. The report identifies and names 972 alleged perpetrators. These figures just represent tip of the iceberg since the systematic violence of the Indian state has resulted in more than 8000 disappearances, 70,000 deaths, 6000 unknown, unmarked graves and mass graves.
Nine Hundred seventy two (972) is just a tangible number of alleged perpetrators but a complex network of other (and often intangible) institutions which work behind the scenes are equally culpable. From the higher authorities in the Indian Army to judiciary, legislature and executive that provide mechanisms and laws such as AFSPA for the sole aim of providing impunity, the whole Structure of Violence is in itself the institutional design of the Indian State. Thus, a whole State can be prosecuted, which obviously cannot be even though of. At least, the people who headed the government and other ministries over the last two and half decades should be dragged into international court of Justice (ICJ) and International Criminal Court (ICC). This might perhaps provide a sense of Justice (with Capital J) to the people of Jammu and Kashmir.
As the report argues, “The Violence, obfuscation and impunity at every step illuminates the system at work and reiterates the argument that there can be no justice from the same judicial system that is a part of the larger apparatus of Occupation and employs mass violence as a strategic tool for political control.” [pp. 5. Emphasis added]. The denial of justice even when the civilians have lost every hope of ever getting it or not demanding it or taking other means to get justice done does not mean, in any case, that the Occupational regime can wash its hands off. Despite this, the report puts forth its recommendations [iii, iv, v. pp. 6] and addresses them to the Government of India and Government of Jammu and Kashmir which is a proxy military government. Putting forth recommendations to a system that has not only allowed structures of violence to exist but in itself is a structure lacks clarity of understanding on the part of the report writers, insensitivity towards the victims and a deep sense of optimism towards the Indian State.
The report in its entirety is also an instrument of memory and resistance and the literature of resistance seldom asks concessions from the occupier. Even though the report is a legal document but a mere mention of a massacre or an enforced disappearance in the face of all denials by the Indian State is resistance that is highlighted by the collective memory of the Kashmiri People.
One of the chapters in the report aptly titled Theatres of Violence documents five instances of mass violence which reiterates the argument that it is not only the body and minds of Kashmiris that have been brutalized by the occupational forces but the spaces they inhabit have been used as ‘theatres of violence’ to inflict a constant and continuous fear among the populace. A civilian that challenges the Indian rule or expresses any other political opinion becomes a body that “can be subjected to punishment with impunity.” Places that hold such sentiment are made to suffer with violence that is meant to affect the whole community. Even the domestic space is not free from the history of violence in Kashmir.
The overt presence of military in the society has a different kind of effect since it strips the local populace of even the basic human dignity—daily identity checkups, concertina wires on roads, search and cordon operations, undeclared night curfews, surveying the local population, and photographing them form a part of daily humiliation process. Where the camps are nearer to localities, people have to ask the army even to enter their own homes. A larger picture that comes out of this humiliation process is self-hatred or self-flagellation forming the basis of Kashmiri Psyche. In Kashmiri rural areas the dimension of militarism takes a new color since Indian Army effectively works in such a manner that people become dependent on them. It also partly explains why there is high turnout in rural areas than in urban areas. Even for basic things people are dependent on them and since the army has already invaded their domestic spaces the power of coercion in elections becomes self-evident. In the Saderkote-Bala Massacre, the report ‘highlights how electoral politics under pervasive militarization can operate as a violent structure even for those willing to participate in it” (pp. 96) not to mention of those who boycott the elections.
A couple of years ago the road linking the villages in Saenwor area in North Kashmir with main Highway was closed to the traffic movement at evening as the road went through Hamray Camp. Every vehicle that plied on that road was monitored and checked at the entrance thus making “civilians in [the] area… conscious of how close they are to a military apparatus whose aggressive authority, supposedly designed to protect their interests, is often directed against them.” Pp.15. Explaining the structure of army camps the report emphasizes that the Indian state has put a huge structure of army through camps of varying sizes everywhere in Kashmir for strategic area domination. The two major army installations—Khanabal and Tapper—as documented in the report, showcase occupation in its exact sense and the “practices and operating procedures – formal or otherwise – that contravene” India’s domestic law and international law’ but form the integral part of their practices.
In the chapter ‘Theatres of Violence’ the instances of mass violence that are detailed are a) mass rape and torture at Kunan Poshpora in 1991, b) 1993 Sopore Massacre, c) Saderkoot-Bala Massacre 1996, d) The massacres at Sailan and Mohra Bachai, Poonch District 1998 and 1999, and e) The massacres at Chittisingpora, Pathribal, and Brakpora Islamabad District (Government records Anantnag) 2000. Apart from this, 49 other instances of ‘mass killings’ are also reported.
A mass killing is defined as an act involving the murder of three or more individuals in a single incident. The patterns in these mass killings are same with investigators describing them as ‘indiscriminate’ acts of madness’ perpetrated by ‘violent beasts’. Here the use of language becomes important since it is not an individual of Indian Army or Jammu and Kashmir Police that has committed the crime but a ‘violent beast’ that too when he has lost his sanity. It dehumanizes the act but it absolves the individual of any crime. Can an insane person be prosecuted? However, the report is quick to clarify that the sheer scale of this ‘madness’ requires prior planning. If not planning, intent is always there. The instances of mass violence in Kashmir have one other commonality—the army’s will to inflict maximum damage, ‘teach a lesson to the residents’ and give a collective punishment. In the Sopore Massacre, a mere incident of attack on an army convoy exposed the intentions of the Border Security Force (BSF) men of the Indian Army. The intent was “Where ever you find them (Kashmiris), shoot them, set fire.” Overall, the total number of civilians killed in the five incidents of mass violence documented in the report is 136, with hundreds of injured civilians, damaged property worth millions, many cases of torture and the most significant tragedy of Kunan Poshpora.
The report argues that behind every incident of mass violence, individual killings, torture, rape, destruction of property are top-level officials who planned and supervised the acts. However, the report while naming the individual perpetrators has not mentioned the names of higher officials who are guilty of command responsibility in the list of actual perpetrators barring a few cases. It would have been ideal to begin enlisting the perpetrators with persons guilty of command responsibility at the top.
The report may have taken too much liberty in naming the survivors and witnesses endangering their lives. Certain eyewitnesses have preferred anonymity; testimony to the repressive state apparatus being alive and kicking. Out of the total 972 alleged perpetrators as documented in the report 464 belong to Indian army, 161 to Indian paramilitary forces, 158 to Jammu and Kashmir police and 189 to government gunmen commonly known in Kashmir as Ikhwaen or Nabid.
The fault lines created by the occupation are often looked in binary: that of occupants and occupier but the case of Ikhwan adds a unique element. As a community, Kashmiris found them occupiers from their own homes and were not ready to disown them. Why did they do it? For money or a hatred for what Hizb ul Mujahideen stood for. Today Kashmiri society disowns them to the extent that today the worst abuse a Kashmiri can give to other Kashmiri is to label him as an Ikhwaen. This amount of hatred against Ikhwan is quite natural for the kashmiri people to exhibit. Their tactics were disliked and dreaded. One of the commanders of Ikhwan in his testimony says, “What the Indian state could not do, we managed to do it in short time” (pp. 548). Indian state became stronger in Kashmir by employing Ikhwan but what needs to understood is that Ikhwan is dead and might never emerge again. It is a moral victory if not a strategic.
Ikhwan was instrumental in not only facilitating election process on behalf of Indian state but also suppressing the resistance movement. It was a lot easier for Ikhwan since they mostly came from the same ranks and groups, which they were now fighting, and in the earlier period of their formation, they had even some legitimacy and by deceptive measures misused that position. By forming Ikhwan, Indian Army was creating a scenario where they would be inflicted with minimal damage. Ikhwan was the best bet of Indian State since it technically meant ‘a brother was fighting another brother’ creating fissures in the society, deepening militarization and rotting the social fabric of the society.
The report draws attention to numerous cases of killings, rapes, tortures, disappearances where the State has clinically absolved itself of any justice delivery system. Nevertheless, using documents procured from different state institutions and testimonies, the report features 333 cases. Many of the testimonies come with gory details but grimmer is the fact that the perpetrators have won awards and promotions for the crimes for which they should have been prosecuted. Some of the alleged perpetrators have or currently hold high positions in the armed forces as well as in the political structure. The cases of the three alleged perpetrators as mentioned below shows how State and individual perpetrators complement each other.
Perpetrator Number 969: Usman Majeed (Government Gunmen, Congress MLA, and former Minister of State)
Involved in abduction and extra judicial killing of a school principal, Usman Majeed is currently lawmaker and an MLA in the state assembly from Bandipora Constituency that also provides him a cover of impunity. He was a Minister of State for Urban Planning in Ghulam Nabi Azad’s government (2005-08). On 6 June 1993, Abdul Khaliq Wani, a resident of Hajin, Bandipora was abducted by Usman Majeed along with his other companions. Hearing the news of the abduction, his family rushed towards the victim and Ikhwanis where the family saw:
Abdul Khaliq died on the spot. Later the BSF men told the family that he (deceased) deserved it for being a member of Jama’at e Islami. The report mentions persecution of Jama’at members by armed forces or government gun. Killing and torturing Jama’at members shows the anti-intellectual trait of the Indian Occupation in Jammu and Kashmir. Often regarded as well read, ideologically sound, and working under an organization made Jama’at members highly dangerous, and as such vulnerable, since they were shaping the ideas of resistance. By killing and coercing them Indian State was trying to uproot the roots of resistance movement.
Perpetrator Number 771: SSP Altaf Khan
The report in its Case No. 183 mentions an extra-Judicial Killing of Zubair-ul-Hassan Bhat, aged 15 years, of Sopore. On 13 April 2010, Zubair along with four other boys was playing cricket in a local ground. After they finished, the boys went to the riverside where the perpetrator along with other policemen were on the bridge. The police chased them so that they could arrest the boys.
When the victim’s father reasoned with the police to help him find his son’s body, he was beaten and threatened. Initially, the police refused to file an FIR but after two years family managed to file an FIR. Apart from this, SSP Altaf Khan is also involved in Case N0. 187 as a primary perpetrator. Further, Altaf Khan is also involved in a 2004 rape case and 2011 torture and custodial killing of Nazim Rashid Shalla. Ironically, Altaf Khan was conferred with a Presidents Police Award for Gallantry in 2012.
Perpetrator Number 772: SSP Ashiq Bukhari (retired)
In 2010, an Indian Magazine, Open, profiled some of the police officers of Jammu and Kashmir police under the headline The Khaki Fidayeen that was a metaphor for the ‘bravery’ of these men and at the same time appropriating them with the militant Fidayeen. In the profile written by an Indian Journalist, Ashiq Bukhari comes as a ‘brave man’ who is working against the official hooliganism but at the same time, it is boasted that he has been instrumental in killing 300 militants. With promotions and awards offered to the policemen who kill militants, it becomes highly reasonable to doubt these claims in the face of fake encounters and custodial killings. Pertinently, Bukhari has been conferred with bravery awards. The report names Bukhari as an alleged perpetrator for torturing Ashiq Hussain Narchoor and Manzoor Ahmad Bhat. (Case No. 34 and 37 respectively). Further, the report mentions, “he would be also responsible under the international criminal law principles of command responsibility” for other crimes. A former Special Operation Group specialist Bukhari is a dreaded name in Kashmiri society for having tortured hundreds of young men and being at the forefront of a brutal police in 2010 mass uprising where under his command responsibility 18 persons were killed. Despite this, in the run up to the 2014 assembly elections Ashiq Bukhari campaigned and addressed rallies alongside Mufti Muhammad Syed, present Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir. This shows how a perpetrator of an internationally recognized crime can easily break into a political system, which reduces chances of persecution since political system is the epitome of impunity.
The induction of these perpetrators into the political system and the rewards and encouragement they receive from the pro-Indian politicians and the state from time to time shows the deep involvement of the politicians in the persecution of Kashmiris making them accomplices in the violence acting on behest of Indian State. They can be rightly termed as ‘political renegades.’ For a people who do not believe that Indian State can ever prosecute these alleged perpetrators it is better that they remember them by the numbers they are allotted in the report.
In the hundreds of testimonies mentioned in the report, there are accounts of torture and harassment. A survivor recounts how water boarding, commonly known as Paani Parade, was used on him. “After the Paani Parade they took a broken plastic bucket and burnt it. They let the drops melt off it on my back… they cut chillis and threw them on my face,” the survivor, Reyaz Ahmad Khan, narrates. The torture did not end there. A beer bottle was inserted into his rectum. This incident shows other patterns of violence as the survivor was tortured by all the ‘structures of violence’ i.e. Government gunmen, Indian Army, and Jammu and Kashmir Police ably supporting each other. Since Indian Army enjoys highest impunity, it inevitably meant or means that their torture procedures are the severest. This particular case exemplifies this assertion. After the torture by Government gunmen, a Captain Chauhan of Sector 1 (Khanabal Camp) started interrogating him. Khan, then possibly aged 20, remembers, “They tied a wire to my penis. One wire was attached outside and one inside. Then they turned on the battery. One soldier came with a warfare knife, cut open my hand, put chilli on the cut and then bandaged it.”
A recent article on scroll.com quoted another torture survivor that ‘justice cannot be expected from a murderous regime of oppression’ and rightly so. Justice is impossibility in Jammu and Kashmir. When the mechanisms of occupation are as strong as this report projects them and when there is impunity of the highest order, to ask for justice is a travesty. This report does ask the international community to intervene but with India emerging as a booming market, this demand would remain elusive. Nevertheless, reports like these facilitate and open up possibilities where the Indian State can be shamed and international organizations at least take cognizance of whatever is happening in Kashmir. A mere mention in media might evoke a response from the Indian civil society under whose name Indian State perpetuates such crimes. Moreover, the findings of this report are to be read as a memorabilia especially hundreds of consented testimonies.
The report presents a picture of the occupational structures of violence and follows a coherent model wherein it lays emphasis that the individual perpetrator on ground is directly linked with the headquarters in New Delhi—who are in charge. Thus, every act of violence committed by an individual or a group of individuals has an institutional backing before as well as after the act. Court Martials or as the report calls them ‘Courts of Violence’ are thus redundant as “they [are] used to effectively stall any public, transparent civilian process of justice.” In the Pathribal episode, the myth of court martial was exposed since Supreme Court of India invoked the applicability of section 125 of the Army Act allowing the trial of the Army personnel in their own institution. Then Army ruled out the option of Court Martial by acquitting all the accused in its summary of evidence in January 2014. Machil is an exception; however, there have been cases where the personnel indicted by army have been reinstated by the civilian courts, which reinforce the notion of Indian judiciary being part of the overall structure of violence by providing legal impunity to perpetrators. The rape of a 17 year old in Banihal on February 14, 2000 is a worthy mention here since the accused Captain Ravinder Singh Tewatia was held guilty of the crime by the court martial but Jammu and Kashmir High Court quashed the verdict and acquitted him of all charges. This interplay of civilian courts and military courts does make a case for what could be termed as Cycle of Impunity.