This article is a joint publication of TheNation.com and Foreign Policy In Focus.
In 1991, the historian Alastair Lamb wrote that “it has become apparent that the Indian Republic is faced with, at least in that part of the Vale of Kashmir which it occupies, what can only be described as a terminal colonial situation.”
This terminal colonial situation has lasted for twenty-five years and has brought suffering and violence on an unimaginable scale to the civilian population. Although the violence has been seared into Kashmiri memory, it is forgotten or deliberately obscured in India and the rest of the world. Now, finally, these stories are being told and shared with new audiences, in large part due to new social media. Evidence of massive human rights abuses by Indian forces is being documented in credible and compelling detail. In their scope and nature, these abuses meet the legal definition of crimes against humanity.
Indian-administered Kashmir remains one of the most highly militarized regions in the world. The history of military violence—disappearances, shootings, extrajudicial killings, torture, arson and rape—has touched virtually every home and family in the valley. The total number of those killed, maimed and otherwise harmed will probably never be known. To date, no one has been held accountable for these atrocities.
National security laws like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), in effect in Kashmir since 1990, guarantee impunity to military personnel accused of these crimes. Against this continuing chronicle of military terror, the Kashmiri movement for justice and rights offers a profoundly moral voice. Grief and love give the families the courage to confront and challenge this most paradoxical of all systems of terror—a military regime in service of a country that bills itself as the “world’s largest democracy.”
The Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) has brought together hundreds of victims’ families united by a quest for truth and justice. Founded in 1994 by Parveena Ahangar, one of the mothers of the disappeared, it has become a rallying point for victims and survivors. Guided by the concerns of the families, APDP’s mandate has expanded to cover crimes like extrajudicial killings, torture and rape. It has also pioneered the legal strategy that offers the best chance of ending these abuses and of bringing the abusers to justice. Meticulous documentation of the disappearances and other abuses in collaboration with the UN High Commission on Human Rights has produced a detailed record. It provides documentary evidence that may serve in any future tribunals on crimes against humanity in Kashmir. Such accountability is essential to any kind of peace settlement.