TRC – rhetoric or reality?

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Few years back when some human rights groups here talked about the presence of unmarked mass graves in some parts of the Valley and Jammu region as well, the government’s initial response was that it is a baseless allegation. But then as the issue gathered some heat, the State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) appointed a special investigation team headed by senior police officer to investigate the matter, which, after a probe actually authenticated the reports of presence of unmarked mass graves. Indeed after this authentication, for the first time the government didn’t brush aside the reports of mass graves as “motivated” to defame it and its agencies, and actually confessed and conceded the need for a thorough probe in all human rights violations whether committed by its forces or by the militants.

Since the ratification to the mass graves issue had came from none other than one of government’s very own organs – the SHRC, there was no reasonable reason for the governments here as well as in New Delhi to doubt the veracity of its findings. These revelations lent voice to the voiceless – those very ill-fated people whose kin have gone missing over the years, and who have for long been peacefully protesting seeking their whereabouts – at least some clue whether their loved ones are dead or alive. If alive where are they, and if dead where have their bodies been dumped. Being informed about what happened to their kin is indeed a fundamental right of every victim family whose member has gone missing in the politics of violence that have dominated Kashmir for three decades now.

In the wake of the SHRC’s revelations at that time, then chief minister Omar Abdullah reiterated the demand for setting up some mechanism like a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate not only these unaccounted killings by the combatants of all hues but other human rights violations as well. But then during his entire tenure, there was hardly any headway over the issue. And like so many other things, National Conference once again talking about setting up a Truth Commission seems nothing by yet another rhetorical hyperbole which has been the characteristic feature of the extraordinary impressive speechifying of this party’s leadership.

It was always feared by the common people that the government may never really be ready for an institutional fact-finding, irrespective of who gets the mandate to rule this state. Even as any thorough investigation process, it goes without saying, is going to weigh heavily on the militant/separatist side as well for they too have been equally ruthless, but since the mechanism is to be set up primarily by the government, one could easily understand its discomfort for the fear of many more skeletons coming out to cost it its face. Any investigation process into the unaccounted killings that have taken place here which brings every single case of custodial as well as post-abduction disappearance and all other human rights violations within its ambit, it goes without saying will bring huge pressure on all those who have been the leading players in Kashmir’s violent amphitheatre. Within the government as well as in its military organization (including police and paramilitary) there is no dearth of people (read powers) who would try their best to stall or at least subvert the investigations into the custodial killings involving them. Same will be the case with other side as well – they too would do anything to shield their guilt, for it would otherwise reveal their real faces by taking off the masks of sacredness they have worn to conceal their politics of deceit.

This is not to say that all cases of custodial disappearances, abductions, or fake encounters should not be investigated. They certainly must be investigated, every atrocity probed and the guilty punished too. For that what is needed is a separate and elaborate mechanism and authority specifically oriented to investigate rights violations and fixing responsibility for them. Suggestions to the effect of having a separate and elaborate mechanism in the shape of something like a Truth and Reconciliation Commission are, indeed a very wise preposition. The investigating teams comprising police are certainly not the ideal instrument for the purpose. If the state and its politico-executive functionaries really want to move beyond rhetoric, and translate its oft-repeated pledge of “zero tolerance” for rights violations into reality, it has to put in place a proper mechanism to bring to book anybody and everybody who has indulged in rights violations of whatever magnitude for whatsoever reasons here. Making a “sacred cow” out of its police and military and overlooking every wrong they have committed to the people is going to help none. Similarly the separatists as well as the common people too will have to be ready to face the naked but unfortunate truths about militants’ atrocities. Either side’s unwillingness to accept its complicity by shielding its guilty, as has been proved in the past, will only aggravate and complicate the situation, pulling Kashmir deeper and deeper into the recesses of conflict trap.

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