Human rights workers have found the graves of nearly 1,000 unidentified people scattered in cemeteries across an isolated region of Kashmir. A prominent human rights group has accused the Indian security forces of using the graves to hide the bodies of people they have killed. But the Indian security forces deny these allegations.
Indian Border Security Force soldiers patrol in Srinagar
Researchers from the Association of Parents of Disappeared People, or APDP, found the graves during a yearlong survey of the region around the district of Uri, one of the most violence prone regions of Kashmir.
The group said it had discovered close to 1,000 "nameless graves" in 18 villages around this district neighbouring the Pakistan-administered zone of Kashmir.
The APDP, which estimates around 10,000 people went missing during the nearly two-decade-old separatist revolt in the conflict region of Kashmir, says many of the missing could have ended up in these unmarked graves.
Indian troops accused
Mr. Pervez Imroz, the head of APDP is demanding a free and fair investigation, as this might just be the tip of the iceberg.
''We are only demanding that there be an investigation, as 1,000 graves have been unearthed. If there have been investigations in other conflict areas – Bosnia, Chechnya – the same should also happen in Kashmir. Secondly, a very serious concern is this: If 1,000 bodies were discovered from just 18 villages, these abuses might be widespread if you consider the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir, where the army is present everywhere –there are between 600,000 and 700,000 troops in the region.''
Indian troops, fighting separatist militants in Kashmir, have been accused in the past of murdering innocent civilians in staged gun battles and passing them off as separatist militants to earn rewards and promotions. Last year the authorities charged more than a dozen policemen and soldiers with killing at least two civilians in fake gun battles and claiming they were militants. The killings triggered widespread protests in Kashmir.
Independant inquiry demanded
Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, the chairman of the separatist group, the All Party Hurriyat Conference, demands that for the investigation to be impartial, it should not be carried out by the Indian government.
''We demand that a free and fair inquiry should be held by a non partisan organisation like Amnesty International or Asia Watch because we don't trust the commissions that the government of India sets up.''
Tens of thousands of people have been killed since an Islamic separatist insurgency against Indian rule broke out in Kashmir in 1989. APDP claims that around 8,000 people have mysteriously disappeared in Kashmir since then. The Indian security officials say many of the missing have crossed over to Pakistan to join insurgents. The Indian army rejects claims that the recently discovered graves contained the bodies of anyone besides rebels.
Considering there has been a reduction in violence, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq complains that India hasn't reciprocated in equal measure by reducing troop levels in the region:
''Violence has come down, but the number of Indian troops has not come down. We were expecting that there would be some efforts towards demilitarization – troops would at least start moving out from towns, hospitals, colleges. But unfortunately the demilitarization plan remains only on paper. In the last two years, the paramilitary forces have been buying more land to expand their bases. That is very unfortunate.''
Nonetheless, officials say the level of violence has fallen significantly since the peace process between India and Pakistan began back in 2004. But that is of small consolation to those who have lost family members.