On the International Day of the Disappeared, remember the Kashmiri lives which have been subjected to enforced disappearance not once, but over and over again across the past few decades. They have been made to disappear from the state records, they have been made to disappear from the catalogue of crimes of the Indian State, they have been made to disappear from the physical and political infrastructure that informs our worlds. The truth of their bodies and facts has been buried deep beneath the lies and propaganda of the Indian imperialist machinery, and it is truth, primarily, that has been subjected to enforced disappearance by this Republic of Misery.
Kashmir is a war zone where the State exercises its regime of control over Kashmiri lives and deaths. It is here that more than 8,000 (some reports suggest the numbers to be as high as 10,000) Kashmiri men are in the infernal in-between — in the wait of their mothers, they are either alive or dead, they are both alive and dead: there is no way to know.
Because several cases of enforced and involuntary disappearances are closely connected with torture, extrajudicial killings, and fake encounters in the region, it is important to note that:
a. India had signed the Convention against Torture in 1997, yet no Indian government has ratified it nor passed any domestic law against torture
b. India has also failed to ratify the Convention for Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances (2007)
c. India has not honoured the recommendations proposed by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) report of June 2018
It becomes critical to remember this flagrant indifference to international legal conventions by the Indian State because it is based on the same militaristic logic that sustains the illegal and immoral presence of India in Kashmir, assisted by a network of impunity, gallantry awards, promotions, and cheerleading by the Indian popular culture.
There are more than 7,000 unmarked mass graves in Jammu & Kashmir, and several commissions of inquiry have pointed out to the possibility that many of the disappeared may have been tortured or killed in fake encounters and subsequently buried in these graves. Despite significant international pressure, the Indian government has refused to conduct a proper DNA testing to ascertain the identity of those buried. In some cases, the bodies were even dismissed as being those of “foreign militants”, without the State providing any substantial evidence to back these claims or allowing any external committees to conduct a free and fair probe.
Just to remind you, three young men from Rajouri, Ibrar Ahmad (15), Ibrar Ahmad (25), and Imtiyaz Ahmad (20), who had gone to Shopian looking for work had been disappeared on July 17, 2020 and killed in a fake encounter on July 18, 2020. It was after 22 days that their families discovered that they had been killed by 62 Rashtriya Rifles in Amshipor village. There has been no justice yet. The perpetrators are still serving the Indian military establishment, just like their counterparts who are accused of several heinous crimes against Kashmiris.
For Indians in solidarity with the Kashmiri struggle for self-determination, our work is to demand from our government to honour the international laws, ratify the treaties India is a signatory to, and set up an independent judicial commission for investigating these cases of human rights-political rights violations.
Many mothers in Kashmir toil, for years, with limited support and resources; they persevere with their fight to find their sons, traversing the maze of judicial and bureaucratic structures. And some have even passed away in their long, difficult wait. I remember with pain the deaths of Dilshada Shiekh and Rehti Begum in 2018.
Families of the victims of enforced disappearances continue to persist in their strenuous labour to demand the whereabouts of their loved ones and to honour their memories — on their own terms. They teach us to challenge the stratified nature of our memory across generations that has been clouded and manipulated by the narratives parroted by the Indian State and its agencies. They tell us that we do not have time to waste and that there is a lot of work to be done in order to retrieve the disappeared from the layers of erasure and invisibility. They alert us to the perpetrators, apologists, fence-sitters, and enablers of this crime. Most importantly, they remind us that nothing makes sense unless the Indian occupation and its architecture of violence is decimated
Shivangi Mariam Raj is an academic publishing professional, translator, and independent researcher.