Kashmir's Crossroads

Self Rule, Indian Integration, and Party Politics

A Kashmiri woman Ishrat Ghani cries while narrating the story of her mother's death during a day-long token hunger strike organized by the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) in Srinagar February 26, 2011. Fayaz Kabli / Reuters

Two grassy green mounds sit beside each other next to a makeshift irrigation canal in Ajas-Bazipora, twin villages near the Bandipora district of Jammu and Kashmir. Unmarked and nondescript, the knolls are easily mistaken for an undulation of packed soil. They are, in fact, the graves of two Pakistani militants killed in an encounter with the Indian army in 2009. Villagers gathered around a makeshift mud embankment tell me how they were called on to bury the bodies of those killed in conflict. When people were killed in encounters with the army, they said, the army handed over their bodies to the local police, who in turn handed bodies over to the villagers to bury in accordance with Islamic ritual. In this case, the bodies were unidentified; locals were only told that they were militants, and they remain unsure of the truth behind this claim.

The villages in Kashmir’s most hard-hit insurgent belt are accustomed to such burials. Our escort, a young man in his early twenties, told us that he had been digging graves intermittently since he was about 12 years old. The locals also told us that they could take us to several more such graves. India’s State Human Rights Commission put the number at 2,700 in 2011. According to latest figures supplied by the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), the total is more like 7,000 unmarked and mass graves in five of the embattled region’s districts.

A plaque in a small park in the Bandipora district of Jammu and Kashmir.
A plaque in a small park in the Bandipora district of Jammu and Kashmir. Vasundhara Sirnate

In another Bandipora district village, we met Majeed—a lanky 35 year-old comfortably enveloped in a pheran (traditional warm tunic) who looked a lot older than his age. We sat on the carpeted floor of his small home in a village two hours north from Srinagar. Looking at Majeed, it was difficult to believe that the Indian state once considered him a dangerous militant. Like several young boys in the Kashmir Valley, his peers approached him about

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