The witness sleeps

One evening of 2003, during Ramadan, a farmer from Bimyar, Uri, in north Kashmir was approached by police to dig graves for burying unidentified bullet-ridden bodies.
The witness sleeps
File Photo

One evening of 2003, during Ramadan, a farmer from Bimyar, Uri, in north Kashmir was approached by police to dig graves for burying unidentified bullet-ridden bodies. The farmers initial refusal notwithstanding, soon he was walking home to fetch digging tools, coming back to dig the first graves for unidentified bodies in the village graveyard. 

This was to be the start of a long series of burial of unidentified, mutilated and often desecrated human bodies in this nondescript village near the Line of Control. Suddenly bodies started appearing every now and then and this barren land was turned into a cemetery, the farmer becoming its permanent graved digger and caretaker. 

Not long before after this burial did he find out that the first unidentified bullet ridden bodies, those police handed over to him claiming them to be of Afghan militants, were actually of civilians of Sheeri, Baramulla. 

What followed over months and years were an uneven stream of knocks by forces in uniform to bury more unidentified bodies, often during midnight, leaving this once farmer with blood drenched hands, clothes and a shaken soul. By his own counts, Atta Mohammad received 235 unidentified bullet ridden bodies, for burial in his village graveyard. While police claimed these bodies were of 'militants killed in encounters', they included body of a baby girl as young as six months. Many of these bodies would bear multiple wounds or have been decapitated beyond recognition. Some corpses would already have been decomposed. The gravedigger noted how most of these bodies were of young men, beautiful once, eternally asleep now. 

Since these sons would have been lost, to night invading military forces, their mothers would have never slept, waiting for the lost sons to return. And every night, mothers would have prepared their bed and cooked their meals, in a vanishing hope, that these sons would some day come back. But little did they know that in a non descript village, close to military lines, a farmer turned grave digger would be preparing the last bath and final bed for their beloved sons. Little would these mothers know, that their beautiful sons stood mutilated for the fear of killers being exposed. 

Kum khoob'soorat khoob'roo, kum jaanan-e-taii,

Kum gull-badan myech'e andarr dolaan taii.

It takes more than human courage to bury unidentified, mutilated and all 235 of them. Most of his fellow villagers would not have dared to even look at these corpses fearing nightmares; hence not many would volunteer to help in the burial. Some years after this village graveyard had started playing host to unidentified corpses, Atta Mohammad was burdened with the same colossal loss that he had been burying all these years. Mohammad Saleem, his nephew, who was a poor daily wager, was one fateful day also passed off as an unidentified militant and buried in the village graveyard. As luck would have been, this time it was not Atta Mohammad who buried 5 unidentified corpses, but the police who buried them during night. It was the villagers who had identified Saleem from among the five buried the previous night and informed a devastated Atta Mohammad. While the corpse had been the buried the grief had to be shouldered over frail shoulders.

So far almost 7000 unmarked graves have been documented to exist in districts of Baramulla, Kupwara, Bandipora, Poonch and Rajouri. And an equal or greater number of persons stand recorded as 'missing in illegal custody of forces'. This darkest chapter of Kashmir conflict needs a closure, by identification of the disappeared and buried. Too many mothers have died in loneliness, waiting for their innocent sons who disappeared in custody. Too many daughters have waited for their fathers to return home and too many widows have waited to erase their 'half widow' tag, seeking answers and whereabouts of their loved ones. 

The buried ones will never awaken, but they need tombstones with names, where families can rest their mourning and lay their tears.  

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