LAST September, a lawmaker in Indian-controlled Kashmir
stood up in the state’s legislative assembly and spoke of a valley filled with human carcasses
near his home constituency in the mountains: “In our area, there are big gorges, where there are the bones of several hundred people who were eaten by crows.”
I read about this in faraway London and was filled with a chill — I had written of a similar valley, a fictional one, in my novel about the lost boys of Kashmir. The assembly was debating a report on the uncovering of more than 2,000 unmarked and mass graves not far from the Line of Control that divides Indian- and Pakistani-controlled Kashmir. The report, by India
’s government-appointed State Human Rights Commission, marked the first official acknowledgment of the presence of mass graves. More significantly, the report found that civilians, potentially the victims of extrajudicial killings, may be buried at some of the sites.
Corpses were brought in by the truckload
and buried on an industrial scale. The report cataloged 2,156 bullet-riddled bodies
found in mountain graves and called for an inquiry to identify them. Many were men described as “unidentified militants” killed in fighting with soldiers during the armed rebellion against Indian rule during the 1990s, but according to the report, more than 500 were local residents. “There is every probability,” the report concluded, that the graves might “contain the dead bodies of enforced disappearances,” a euphemism for people who have been detained, abducted, taken away by armed forces or the police, often without charge or conviction, and never seen again.
Had the graves been found under Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s compound in Libya or in the rubble of Homs in Syria, there surely would have been an uproar. But when over 2,000 skeletons appear in the conflict-ridden backyard of the world’s largest democracy, no one bats an eye.
While the West proselytizes democracy and respect for human rights, sometimes going so far as to cheerlead cavalier military interventions to remove repressive regimes, how can it reconcile its humanitarianism with such brazen disregard for the right to life in Kashmir? Have we come to accept that there are different benchmarks for justice in democracies and autocracies? Are mass graves unearthed in democratic India somehow less offensive?