July 2001 News

J-K mass grave rumour gets quiet burial, but relatives’ wounds still open

31 July 2001
The Indian Express

CHITTERNAR (BANDIPORE): THE lumps of mud dug up in the dense pine forest here in Kashmir are suspected to hold bodies of young men who disappeared in Army custody. Discarded pairs of shoes and torn cloth pieces are cited as evidence of a so-called mass grave. On ground, however, there is nothing but the remains of a military camp that shifted out recently. The rumour regarding a mass grave in this jungle — which houses a forest training academy — started doing the rounds after the battalion headquarters of 14 Rashtriya Rifles moved from here on July 12. ‘‘As soon as the Army moved out after handing over possession of the area to our officers, hundreds of villagers came and looted the leftovers from the camp area. They took pieces of tarpaulin, hundreds of tin sheets,’’ a forest guard posted in the Chitternar Forest Academy says. ‘‘There was no rumour of any grave till then. Next morning, everybody was talking about graves and bodies buried inside.’’ The rumour was immediately picked up by Pakistan Television. Separatist conglomerate Hurriyat Conference too issued a statement claiming that a mass grave had been found in the forest land where the Army had been camping. ‘‘We saw a number of shoes and sandals and pouches, besides there was a stink of the dead emanating from at least three different places, which clearly indicate that there are mass graves where the Army buried the arrested militants and other men who disappeared in their custody,’’ a Hurriyat statement claimed soon after its team returned from a visit of the area. The local police that investigated the rumours are convinced there is no truth in it. ‘‘I personally appealed to the people to come to me, or just give me a phone call and tell me where exactly they suspected a grave or a mass grave, we are ready to dig up that place,’’ says Khalid Muzzaffar, the Sub-Divisional Police Officer, Bandipore. ‘‘Nobody came forward.’’ He points out that this is unusual and contrary to similar occasions in the past, ‘‘when villagers came to us with complaints against the forces’’. Muzzaffar informs that the police and Army even collected a group of around 30 eminent people of the locality, including imams of the main mosques, to have a look. There is a reason why people are so willing to accept that there is a mass grave inside the camp. Around 14 men from adjoining villages of Bandipore have disappeared, since the inception of militancy, after being picked up by security forces. Having failed to locate them, the villagers have come to believe that they died in custody and were later buried on the camp premises to keep it a secret. A forest employee says while he doesn’t know how the rumour started, the reaction of the Army gave it strength. ‘‘The Army came and started thrashing everybody here. They were very angry and were demanding a written rebuttal of the news from us,’’ he says. ‘‘This actually added to the suspicion, and then people started calling every lump of earth a grave.’’ The Rashtriya Rifles admits they got ‘‘desperate’’ after the rumours of the mass grave started appearing in the media. ‘‘We were disturbed. A rumour had taken the shape of news. There was pressure from the top as well. Everybody was asking questions regarding a fake thing,’’ says Lt Col A.M. Kakadi of 14 Rashtriya Rifles. However, he denies that anyone was roughed up. ‘‘We did go there, but we did not touch anybody. Why should we harass forest employees?’’ he says. Whether there is any truth in it or not, the rumour has opened the wounds of relatives of the missing people. ‘‘We were actually hoping that this rumour is true. It could at least put an end to the uncertainty that we have been living in for years together now,’’ says a villager from nearby Dachigam village. One of his relatives, who was an employee in the Food and Supplies Department, was picked up by the Army and never seen again. ‘‘We have a feeling that he is dead,’’ says the villager, ‘‘but it is very difficult to accept because there is no grave.’’


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