Kashmir unrest: What was the real death toll in the state in 2016?

How many people actually died in Jammu and Kashmir in 2016?

The answer to this question is ambiguous and the politics of numbers makes it murky. The state government has failed to come up with a definite answer, but human rights groups and separatist organisations have their own contradictory figures. Last week, the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), a human rights group that documents cases of rights violations in J&K, published its annual report Human Rights Review that put the total number of killings in 2016 at 383; the list includes 145 civilians, 138 militants and 100 state and Central forces.

The data, according to JKCCS coordinator Khurram Parvez, is collected from the field by following proper research methodology that also includes the documentation of fratricidal killings and suicide among armed forces. Following this, the moderate faction of the Hurriyat Conference led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq too came up with its report on the fatalities in the previous year. The human rights division of Hurriyat (M) released a report for 2016 that puts the total number of killings in 2016 at 389; 151 civilians, 80 security forces personnel and 158 militants.

While the Hurriyat (M) report says 151 civilians were killed, the JKCCS report puts the number in 2016 at 145.

Tragically enough, every newspaper and news agency in the Valley has its own count when it comes to the number of killings in 2016, including the number of people killed in the last six months of unrest in the Valley following the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani on 8 July.

The leading newspaper of state, Greater Kashmir puts the number of people killed in the unrest at 96 civilians and over 15000 persons injured in action by security forces. On the other hand, its competitor, daily Rising Kashmir, says 92 civilians and two policemen died in the unrest.

 Kashmir unrest: What was the real death toll in the state in 2016?

File image of Kashmiris carrying the body of Burhan Wani. Reuters

"The variation could also be because many organisations also count people who died because of heart attacks during the unrest," political editor of Rising Kashmir, Faisal Yasin, told Firstpost.

Given the murky state of turmoil in Kashmir, the question of which category do the people belong who died because of cardiac arrests during the turmoil on the streets in the previous summer, will remain unanswered. At least three people, including two women died due to cardiac arrest during the 2016 unrest. Hajira Begum, 60, from north Kashmir’s Bandipora district died due to cardiac arrest when stones were allegedly pelted at her house.

Another woman, Jameela Begum, 40, a resident of Bemina in Srinagar also died of cardiac arrest when CRPF men allegedly aimed a gun at her while she was looking out of the window. In Chawalgam Kulgam, Abdul Gani Wani, 70, also died of cardiac arrest allegedly due to the reverberation and loud noise of intense shelling of tear smoke shells, pellets and bullets by forces.

After much condemnation over the use of pellet guns in the valley, the government forces started using chilli filled PAVA shells which were meant to immobilise or paralyse their intended target for a brief time.

However, a 14-year-old girl, Munaza Rashid, from Soura area of Srinagar died on 10th November after inhaling PAVA shell smoke, doctors said.

During the uprising, many people drowned. In two cases, people alleged that the victims were hit or beaten by security forces before their bodies were thrown into river. These killings are indistinct because many groups, including newspapers, don’t count these deaths when it comes to the overall count of people killed in the summer unrest. Interestingly, the Jammu and Kashmir Police is yet to come up with its count of deaths during the preceding year which would have given some sort of credibility to the figures of overall fatalities. Firstpost made multiple attempts to contact Jammu and Kashmir's inspector-general of police SJM Geelani, to no avail.

The documentation of human rights violations has remained an arduous task to accomplish in the trouble torn Valley since the armed insurgency erupted. It is this lack of proper documentation which has, time and again, sown the seeds of confusion in the actual number of people killed since the insurgency erupted.

While the state government says the number of killed is less than 50,000, including militants and security forces, the human rights groups and independent agencies put the number at over a lakh. With so many varying figures, the exact number of killings in Kashmir this year will add to the confusion. However, the politics over actual death count is now being played out in public spaces with no one having a clear idea about whose figures are trustworthy and whose aren't.

The Great Diwali Discount!
Unlock 75% more savings this festive season. Get Moneycontrol Pro for a year for Rs 289 only.
Coupon code: DIWALI. Offer valid till 10th November, 2019 .

Updated Date: Jan 02, 2017 11:34:48 IST