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Man who digs the graves of the unknown dead

Wednesday, 11 December 2013 - 7:16am IST | Place: Srinagar | Agency: dna

Twenty yrs ago, a J&K farmer was made to bury bodies; 235 corpses later, he is a broken soul.

Atta Mohammad Khan, 70, trembles with fear when he recalls the day he buried an unidentified one-year-old girl in his graveyard in Baramulla district’s Chahal village.

  “It was painful experience. The police brought a small girl drenched in blood for burial. There was no one called family with the body. No one claimed or identified it. As a religious duty, I performed her last rites,” Khan told dna.

  In the last 20 years, Khan, a farmer-turned-gravedigger, has buried upwards of 235 bruised, defaced and decomposed bodies — the majority of which were of unidentified persons. Khan has been on a mission to give decent burials to the unidentified dead. But in this pursuit, he has fallen victim to endless mental and physical trauma. “Police and other security forces brought bodies in vans and asked me bury them. They were bullet-riddled and disfigured. It was a scary. They told me they were of militants killed in encounters,” Khan said.

  The forces chose Chahal, a sleepy hillside hamlet, because it had a huge graveyard on a vast stretch of government land. As Khan was living nearby, the police made him bury the dead. “I had no grave-digging experience. Since I was living near the graveyard, the police used to call me to dig graves. But the burials of hundreds of people have had an adverse effect on my health. When people used to sleep, I would be on duty, burying bodies. Because of this, my eye sight is fading and health is failing,” he said.

  Figures released by the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) reveal that there are 7,000 unmarked graves in five districts of Jammu and Kashmir.

“We believe some of those who were buried might have been abducted and killed,” said Khurram Parvez, programme coordinator, J&K Coalition of Civil Society.  Figures released by the Association of Parents of Disappeared People (APDP) reveal that some 8,000 people had gone missing in Kashmir, never to be found. According to APDP, there are 18 graveyards with at least 940 to 1,000 nameless graves in three tehsils of Baramulla district alone.

“There is mystery surrounding the fate of 8,000 people who have gone missing without any trace since 1990. While we don’t have clinching evidence, we believe some answers lie buried in unidentified graves strewn across J&K,” read the APDP report ‘Facts Under Ground’.   Lieutenant General Sanjiv Chachra, General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Northern Command, said the Indian army has one of the finest records in ensuring human rights. 

He said 1,524 allegations of human rights violations against army personnel serving in the Northern Command were received in the last 20 years. “Each and every allegation was probed by an independent and autonomous body and 42 cases were found to be true. 124 personnel found guilty of violations were expeditiously tried by army courts and awarded exemplary punishments ranging from dismissal from service without any service benefits to imprisonment,” he said.

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