Mallika Kaur in Guernica:
Bilquees is one of Kashmir’s “half widows”: a woman whose husband has been “disappeared” and never heard from again, leaving her shrouded in uncertainty as to her marital status. Enforced disappearances have been recorded in Kashmir since the early 1990s and local civil society groups, such as the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, estimate about 8,000 enforced disappearances and about 1,500 “half widows” in Kashmir.
Now, in August of this year, a State Government agency, the State Human Rights Commission, has announced the existence of “mass graves” in the Indian-administered Kashmir Valley: it has recorded multiple graves containing 2730 bodies. The report acknowledges that many of the graves contain civilians who had “disappeared”—574 of the 2730 have been identified as locals—rather than only “unidentified cross-border terrorists” as per the Indian government’s prior claims (even this official position is contrary to the Geneva Conventions, which prohibit torture and mutilation and call for proper burial of fallen combatants). While the skeletons in mass graves evidence suffering of the past, they are also stark reminders of continued suffering of women like Bilquees, who do not know whether their husbands are in the mass graves, or alive somewhere in captivity.