MARCH 6, 2012

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We strongly condemn the attack on and illegal abduction by the Odisha police of Umakanta Biswal, a famer belonging to Dhinkia village of Odisha, and an active member of POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti (PPSS), that has been engaged over the last six years in resisting the forcible acquisition of their land by the Odisha government for handing over to the South Korean multinational corporation POSCO. This incident, which occurred on 2nd March 2012, is the latest in the series of atrocities inflicted by the Odisha government and by hired goons associated with the government and the POSCO company, on the people of these villages. Umakanta Biswal, who was engaged in agricultural activity in his paddy field at the time of his abduction, was pursued by a group of armed plainclothes policemen on a motorbike, and shot at when he tried to escape. He has reportedly been kept in Paradip prison, and has not been produced in front of a magistrate within 24 hours of his arrest, as is required under law. We have cause to fear that he is being tortured in police custody, and are gravely concerned about his safety. This highly irregular, and illegal, form of detention of a citizen, amounting to a kidnapping by the police, is emblematic of the situation in which the villagers of the POSCO-affected area are living for the last six years, just because they have tried to protect their lives and livelihoods from being devastated by corporate greed. Numerous villagers have multiple false cases lodged against them by the police, and people are in danger of being abducted and detained by the police while being engaged in day to day activities such as farming. There have also been incidents where a villager taking his sick child to hospital has been arrested by the police. This continuing victimization and violation of basic human rights of a whole community of people is intolerable, and goes against all tenets of constitutionality and humanity. We condemn this brutal and illegal action by the Odisha government and demand that Umakanta Biswal be immediately produced in court and released. We request the National Human Rights Commission to take cognizance of this illegal detention and violation of rights of a citizen, which is symptomatic of the violation of rights of the entire community of villagers in the area of the proposed POSCO project.

Prof. Manoranjan Mohanty POSCO Pratirodh Solidarity Samittee, New Delhi
Prafulla Samantara NAPM and Lok Shakti Abhiyan
Prof. Ajit Jha Samajwadi Jan Parishad
Partho Sarathi Roy SANHATI Collective
Kiran Shaheen Media Action Group, Delhi
Aarti Chokshi Secretary PUCL, Karnataka
Students for Resistance Delhi University and JNU
Amit Chakrabarty Research Scholar, JNU
Mamta Das NFFPFW and POSCO Pratirodh Solidarity, Delhi
Subrat Kumar Sahoo POSCO Pratirodh Solidarity Samittee, New Delhi
Kamayani Bali Mahabal Lowyer Activist, Mumbai
Asit Das POSCO Pratirodh Solidarity Samittee, New Delhi
Nayan Jyoti Krantikari Naujawan Sabha
Shankar Gopal Krishnan Campaign for Survival and Dignity
Mayur Chetia Research Scholar JNU
Arya Thomas Krantikari Naujawan Sabha
P.K. Sunderam Research Scholar JNU
Bhanumati Gochhait POSCO Pratirodh Solidarity, Delhi
Ranjeet Thakur Journalist, Uttarakhand
Rajni Kant Mudgal Socialist Front
Rita Kumari Pravasi Nagarik Manch
Pushpa Achanta Women against Sexual Violence State Repression Karnataka

Unknown and Unmarked Graves of Kashmir

Srinagar, August 29, 2011


together with the
Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons

Re.: Response to SHRC’s Report on Unknown and Unmarked Graves of Kashmir

Dr. Angana Chatterji, Convener IPTK and Professor, Anthropology, California Institute of Integral Studies
Advocate Parvez Imroz, Convener IPTK and Founder, Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society
Gautam Navlakha, Convener IPTK and Editorial Consultant, Economic and Political Weekly
Zahir-Ud-Din, Convener IPTK and Vice-President, Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society
Advocate Mihir Desai, Legal Counsel IPTK and Lawyer, Mumbai High Court and Supreme Court of India
Khurram Parvez, Liaison IPTK and Programme Coordinator, Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society
and the Executive Council, Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons

Queries may be directed to:
Khurram Parvez
Phone: +91.194.2482820
Mobile: +91.9419013553

We welcome the report of the State Human Rights Commission of Jammu and Kashmir (SHRC) on unmarked graves in north Indian-administered Kashmir (dated July 2011 and recently released), taking suo moto cognizance of the matter, and appreciate the courage and labour that this work signifies.

SHRC’s report acknowledges and corroborates the research documented in the report, BURIED EVIDENCE, released by the International People’s Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice (IPTK) in December 2009.

SHRC investigated unmarked graves in Bandipora, Baramulla, Kupwara, and Handwara districts across 38 graveyards and verified 2156 unidentified bodies in unidentified graves.

Based on investigative research conducted between November 2006-November 2009, BURIED EVIDENCE had documented 2700 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, 2373 were unidentified and unnamed graves.

To respond to the egregious violations of the past and secure justice requires that we acknowledge atrocities that have been committed and address their effects. In the matter of unknown, unmarked, and unidentified graves in Kashmir, we call for a three-tier process: Investigation, Prosecution, and Reparation.

Investigation and Prosecution: We request that SHRC extend its investigation to include each site documented by IPTK in north Kashmir, and beyond, to all twenty districts in Jammu and Kashmir. In particular, we ask that investigations take place in Anantnag, Budgam, Ganderbal, Kulgam, Pulwama, Shopian, and Srinagar districts in Kashmir province and in Doda, Poonch, Rajouri, and Reasi districts in Jammu province.

We ask that DNA-based profiles of those buried in the unmarked and unidentified graves be cross-tabulated with those that have been involuntarily disappeared in Kashmir. Further, in addition to the identification of the dead, we ask that comprehensive forensic examinations be conducted to determine the circumstances of death, including incidences of torture.

The Kashmir Police have stated that they have records of 464 unidentified graves. However, it appears that, even in these cases, the Kashmir Police have not maintained photographic, DNA, and other evidence. All unidentified graves that have been listed as holding the bodies of “foreign militants” must be investigated. The police have filed First Information Reports stating these persons as dead from encounter killings. However, these bodies have not been identified based on records or other verifiable evidence. Neither has conclusive evidence been offered to prove that the bodies are of Kashmir’s disappeared.

SHRC has stated that 574 bodies have been identified as locals following their burial. However, the Kashmir Police and Indian Armed Forces had previously claimed these 574 bodies as those of “foreign militants.” This indicts the government’s negligence in identifying unclaimed bodies. Based on the above, the SHRC report evidences that there is every possibility that the 2156 unmarked graves hold the bodies of persons that were involuntarily disappeared. The cases of the 574 bodies also intimate that numerous persons have been killed in fake encounters and secretly buried in unmarked graves to conceal their identity. IPTK’s 2009 report too had documented a list of 49 bodies, all designated by the state as “foreign militants,” 47 of whom, on investigation, proved to have been killed in fake encounters, and none were identified as foreign insurgents.

If, in the course of future investigations, it is proven that disappeared persons were killed in fake encounters and buried in unmarked graves, exemplary punishments should be pronounced against those accused to deter future and repeated crimes of the same nature. In instances where non-local persons are killed in alleged “encounter” killings, relevant international human rights and humanitarian law must be applied in matters of redress.

SHRC has relied on statements from persons who, fearful of reprisal, wish for their testimonies to be placed on record anonymously. Given the nature of the issue, and the heightened risks involved in offering testimony, utmost care and caution should be exercised in securing witness protection, following international protocols and standards.

We ask that the matter of unknown, unmarked, and mass graves be subjected to a rigorous, independent, and impartial investigation. We ask that the story of these graves be investigated in their entirety: What are the particular legal and institutional histories of the graveyards? How did they come into existence? Per whose order? Did District Magistrates requisition the construction of graveyards, burials, and record keeping? Such historiography would permit holding actionable particular officers and offices that acted in violation of the law, with arrogance and indifference, and failed to follow the law in burying unidentified bodies. This would disaggregate the amorphous state and enable holding accountable particular institutions of state.

Reparation: The issue of unknown and unmarked graves involves the living as much as the dead. Reparation must both be individualized and collectivized, so that communities, neighbourhoods, and villages can heal and break their isolation. SHRC’s either/or proposal of offering a relief of Rupees 700,000 to the next of kin or undertaking DNA testing-based investigation should be amended, and both the investigation and provision of relief be made mandatory. Monetary compensation to the next of kin should not be calculated as ex gratia relief, but should be particularized according to the individual circumstances of death, and the affect the death has had on the family, and relief should be calculated based on the complex task of quantifying loss of life and providing psychosocial and economic rehabilitation to family members.

We ask that all special laws and provisions of immunity that authorize the military and paramilitary forces to act with impunity in Kashmir be revoked unconditionally. We ask that the Government of India ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, to which it has been a signatory since February 2007, and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, to which it has been a signatory since October 1997. We ask that the Government of Jammu and Kashmir institute a comprehensive ban on practises of torture as defined by international law and humanitarian ethics.

In Kashmir, between 1989-2011, the actions of the military and paramilitary have resulted in over 8,000 enforced disappearances and 70,000 deaths. We ask that human rights violations in Kashmir be recognized as resulting from, and concomitant to, the impunity of militarization and state violence, and the dangers militarism imposes on civil society. We caution that, without addressing these structural and prevalent conditions, justice and peace will remain elusive.

In calling for conflict resolution in South Asia’s nuclear zone, we recognize the precarious cross-border conditions between India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, and condemn the violent actions of misogynist state and non-state groups operating in the region.

We gratefully acknowledge the collectives/organizations that have endorsed the above statement:
1.        Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD), Philippines.
2.        Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC).
3.        Families Of the Disappeared (FOD), Sri Lanka.
4.        KontraS (The Commission for “the Disappeared” and Victims of Violence), Indonesia.
5.        Latin American Federation of Associations for Relatives of the Detained Disappeared (FEDEFAM), Venezuela.
6.        Odhikar, Bangladesh.
7.        Andhra Pradesh Civil Liberties Committee (APCLC), Andhra Pradesh.
8.        Association for Democratic Rights (AFDR), Punjab.
9.        Association for Protection of Democratic Rights (APDR), West Bengal.
10.        Bandi Mukti Morcha, West Bengal.
11.        Campaign for Peace & Democracy (CPDM), Manipur.
12.        Committee for Protection of Democratic Rights (CPDR), Mumbai.
13.        Coordination for Human Rights (COHR), Manipur.
14.        Human Rights Forum (HRF), Andhra Pradesh.
15.        Jammu and Kashmir Right to Information Movement, Jammu and Kashmir.
16.        Kashmir Pandit Sangharsh Samiti (KPSS), Jammu and Kashmir.
17.        Lokshahi Hakk Sangathana (LHS), Maharashtra.
18.        Manab Adhikar Sangram Samiti (MASS), Assam.
19.        Naga Peoples’ Movement for Human Rights, Nagaland.
20.        Organization for the Protection of Democratic Rights (OPDR), Andhra Pradesh.
21.        Peoples Democratic Forum (PDF), Karnataka.
22.        Peoples Union For Civil Liberties (PUCL), Chhattisgarh.
23.        Peoples Union for Human Rights (PUHR), Haryana.
24.        Peoples Union For Civil Liberties (PUCL), Jharkhand.
25.        Peoples Union For Civil Liberties (PUCL), Nagpur.
26.        Peoples Union For Civil Liberties (PUCL), Rajasthan.
27.        Peoples Union For Civil Liberties (PUCL), Tamil Nadu.
28.        Peoples Union For Democratic Rights (PUDR), Delhi.
29.        Valley Citizens’ Council, Jammu and Kashmir.

Bahrain and the Arab Spring

Speech given at today’s rally for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain:

I am out here today because I stand with the people of Bahrain against their corrupt and vicious monarchy, because I stand in solidarity with the people who are protesting throughout the Arab world (in Yemen, Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Lebanon and on and on), and because I believe that these protests are in direct response to policies that the US has pursued throughout the 1970s until today, the most horrible examples of which have been the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the undeclared war in Pakistan.

But the protests that have broken out in Bahrain in the past five months, did not come out of the blue. They are part of a long process of economic change and struggle that has been developing in Bahrain and has followed a similar pattern to economic and political processes throughout the Arab world, where in order to control the wealth of the country, the leadership of those countries exercised increasing amounts of state power and violence and restricted democracy by choking the life out of it – all while the US encouraged it.

In order to maintain its economy, the ruling class in Bahrain has done two things. One is to create two pools of low-wage workers and pit them against each other –this keeps the capitalists happy and the workers at war with each other. Starting in the 1970s, Bahrain began importing workers (more Sunni than Shi’a) into Bahrain from Pakistan, Syria, Yemen and Iraq in order to run basic industries and services. These immigrants are then put at the head of the list for jobs, education, and housing, while Bahraini Shi’a are often left to fend for themselves, creating a deep sense of injustice in the population. The immigrants are themselves exploited but they depend on the state for their jobs, so they often side with the state. Shi’a on the other hand are not only kept out of the economy, they are discriminated against politically, and the official sentiment in Bahrain is that all Shi’i are agents of Iran in Bahrain.

These divisions are new, and based on the strategic plan of the Bahraini monarchy to divide and conquer their population. In the 60s and 70s, for instance, there was quite a bit of intermarriage and integration in Bahraini society – there is much less so now. But this is on the backs of pursuing a massive neoliberal program in order to make Bahrain open for business — the second important feature of the Bahraini ruling class’s economic strategy. Bahrain is the only country in the Gulf to have signed a Free Trade Agreement with the US. The result has been massive inequality in the region: desperate poverty and homelessness in parts of the country despite being awash in oil wealth.

Bahrain has a long history of social protests, especially over housing and jobs, because despite being an oil-rich country, Bahrain survives on a deep economic inequality that is often expressed along sectarian lines. The Shi’i majority by and large are substantially worse off. Not only economically, but also politically – despite being the majority in the country they are outnumbered in the Parliament and completely barred from the security forces, which consist of mostly Pakistani and other Arab nationals. The idea in Bahrain is that no Shiite should have a gun.

Starting in February, the people of Bahrain have been protesting for greater democracy in Bahrain. Signs called for more democracy and said things like “not Sunni, not Shi’a, we are all Bahrainis.” The protests gathered in the Pearl roundabout in Manama and were beginning to turn into Tahrir Square, when the Bahraini government declared martial law in March and allowed the Saudi national guard to enter the country and begin a massive crackdown on protesters. Doctors and nurses who were treating protesters have been arrested and are now being subject to military tribunals. It has meant an intensification of torture, secret trials, demolition of Shia mosques, and repression against human rights activists, labor, lawyers, students, political figures, and others.

The US media has not covered any of this. They have made the problem out to be one of sectarian violence or of Iranian meddling. Or they’ve talked about how the US is working patiently to help the Bahraini protesters. Don’t believe it. We have every reason to believe that the US has given the Bahraini government as well as the Saudi government the green light to continue their attacks on protesters. Barack Obama spoke out about the violent crackdown against the Bahraini protesters back in May, but last Tuesday, Bahrain’s crown prince, Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa meet with Obama and Hillary Clinton. The Crown Prince says he is open to dialogue about national reconciliation in Bahrain, but this is utter nonsense as the entirety of the leadership of the opposition and many key activists are all sitting in jail, many awaiting illegal military trials.

When the media isn’t covering this nonsense, it is covering the formula one race. It’s very sad when the FIA, the organization which hosts the Formula One Grand Prix has better politics than most western governments. They agreed to cancel the race in Bahrain because of the crackdown on protesters and the instability in the country – which is a whole lot better than the US.

But because of its small size and relative weakness, the Bahraini government has allied itself to the Saudi government, itself no friend of democracy or human rights, but it must be added, good friend to the Americans. And Saudi Arabia has helped in the crackdown viciously, by sending in its own national guard to help the Bahraini government stay in power.

I think that it’s time that activists in this country stand up and say that US foreign policy has been an agent of much violence in the world and little good. Lupe Fiasco was not that far off when he called Obama a terrorist. The hypocritical support for the Gulf regime and the cynical backing of some of the worst forces in Libya (like the National Transitional Council) against Qaddafi, a man they sold weapons to for decades.  It must be added that Saudi Arabia’s support for the No Fly Zone over Libya was only secured by giving the Saudis a free hand to crush protests in Yemen and Bahrain.  And the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have all demonstrated over and again that the US is not interested in improving the lives of ordinary people in the region – it is only interested in the welfare of the rich corporations that do business here and over there.

The only thing that can help the Bahraini people will be the active solidarity that they get from activists in the US and from the successful completion of the revolutions of the Arab Spring. Their liberation won’t come from Saudi Arabia, it won’t come from the 5th Fleet, it won’t come from Iran. Their liberation and the liberation of all Arab peoples depends on activists in this country putting an end to the meddlesome and destructive foreign policy of the United States.