SRINAGAR, India (AP) — The government of Kashmir has rejected wide-scale DNA testing of bodies in thousands of unmarked graves despite pleas by the families of those who disappeared during two decades of fighting in the restive region.
A report by the state's home department that was obtained by The Associated Press insisted that all those buried in the graves were militants and said that if families wanted DNA tests, they would have to identify both the graveyard and the exact grave where they think their disappeared relative was buried.
The random collection of DNA from the graves would be an "academic exercise" that would "hurt the local sentiments," the report said.
Khurram Parvez, an official with the local Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons, criticized the report as "yet another attempt by the government to obfuscate the truth and sustain impunity."
The report was a response to a three-year investigation by the state-run Human Rights Commission confirming last year that 38 burial sites in the north of the Himalayan territory contained 2,156 unidentified bodies. The Human Rights Commission said 574 other bodies found in the graves were identified as local residents, and it urged widespread DNA testing.
The Kashmir home secretary said the government wasn't hiding anything but that the wide-scale effort could not be done.
"We can't go on digging all the graveyards," Secretary B.R. Sharma said. "If not pointedly specific, at least we need some clue, some direction from relatives of the missing people where they think their disappeared kin might be buried.
"There is a need for closure to all this," he continued. "We also want truth to come out."
The commission's findings last year reversed India's longtime insistence that the dead were foreign militants killed in the fight against Indian rule in Kashmir, which is divided between India and Pakistan and claimed by both in its entirety.
But the new state government report, filed to the human rights commission last month but not released publicly, rejected the commission's investigation and insisted all the bodies in the graves were combatants.
Police could not ascertain the identities of the dead rebels because they operated in disguise and in remote regions far away from their homes, the report said.
"The dead bodies of these terrorists were accordingly categorized as unidentified," it said.
Rebel groups began fighting in 1989 against Indian rule, and more than 68,000 people have been killed in the uprising and subsequent Indian crackdowns.
Rights groups said some 8,000 people have disappeared, and accused government forces of staging gunbattles to cover up killings. The groups also say suspected rebels have been arrested and never heard from again.
The state government has said most of the disappeared are young Kashmiris who crossed into Pakistani-controlled Kashmir for weapons training.
The new report rejected any link between missing people and unidentified graves in the region.
"The impression being given to the . commission that the unidentified dead bodies buried in these unmarked graves might be of the persons/civilians who have been reported to be victims of alleged forced disappearance is not correct and is far from truth."
The report said random DNA testing of the graves would take years since only about 16 labs in India had the capacity to do it.
It could also "attract undesired media attention, cause prolonged trauma to the people and can also act as a trigger point/event for causing serious law and order disturbances," it said.
The report said no one had taken the government up in its previous offer to undertake DNA tests on specific graves identified by the relatives of those missing.
But Parvez of the families association said it filed a case in December on behalf of 132 families asking for just that. It filed another 507 cases last month, he said.
"Nothing has come out so far," he said.