Kashmir: Enforced Disappearances and Civic Action 1
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Summary: Enforced disappearances are a reality in Kashmir. Like most other issues pertaining to the unresolved conflict, the number of disappearances, agencies responsible for these and of course the legal status of those missing are frequently contested. Former Chief Minister Mufti Mohammed Saeed put the number at 60 while the former Law Minister Muzaffar Hussain Baig told the State Assembly on March 25, 2003 that since December 1992, 3744 are reported missing of whom 135 have been declared dead. Activists such as Parveena Ahangar of the Association of the Parents of Disappeared Persons and Zahir-ud-din, editor of Greater Kashmir estimate the numbers to be in the range of 4000-10, 000. These two 'events' were recorded and given to us by Zahir-ud-din. We have not edited any portions from the tape.
Figures and numbers aside, the matters shared by most interviewees bring attention not just to the personal grief resulting from such disappearances but also to the material and social incumbencies brought to bear upon women, especially wives of disappeared persons. In all cases, however, each woman has described numerous arduous journeys they have undertaken to institutions, prisons, courts and detention centres. Parveena Ahangar has been at the forefront, having formed the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons to forge a community and bring attention human rights violations as well as to the grievances of the relatives.
My name is Shafiqa.
My husband was taken on 22nd January 2000 at 6.00 pm. The next day they came to search the house and asked me where the 'things' (arms / ammunition) were. I asked them 'what arms would I have'? They turned the house upside down, searched everything and found nothing. Then they went away. On the 3rd day my husband sent a letter saying that he was in Tahralpora with Rashtriya Rifles. My neighbours provided money and I went to Tahralpora with the letter and his photo. They told me that no such person was there but when I asked the villagers I found out that 4 people had been brought to the camp of which two had been released and two were still being held. I went back to the army camp and asked them where they have kept my husband. They answered that they didn't have him and told me to go look for them in Lal Chowk. I had my child with me and they dropped both of us at Lal Chowk. An old man saw me wandering the streets and asked me "Daughter, what are you doing here?". I answered that they had taken my husband. He took me home and told me I could stay with his family and that they would find their best to help me find him. I stayed with them for some time but we could not locate him. So I went back home.
I was pregnant and had to have a caesarian operation. I went back after 4 months to Kupwara with my neighbour to find out if he was still there at the camp. The villagers asked me "Are you the same girl? Are you still searching?" I told them yes. They told me on oath that the two people in the camp had been killed. "They were alive for 10 days but after that they were killed." But may be if you go now, they will let you see the "dead body". I told my neighbour that my one wish was to somehow have one glimpse of the dead body; that alone would convince me that this was real. Otherwise, my heart would never be at peace. But she said that I had just had an operation and was in no condition to see a dead body. "You come home" she said.
Shafiqa is a young Kashmiri woman whose husband was picked up on 22nd January 2000. In her interview, she tells us that her husband wrote to a few days later, saying that he was being detained by Rashtriya Rifles in Tahralpora. The Rashtriya Rifles is a counter-insurgency force in Kashmir. Like other counter-insurgency agencies, Rashtriya Rifles are infamous for subjecting civilians in Kashmir to varying degrees of harassment, torture, rape and extra-judicial killings.
Insertion of contextual, technical or referential information next to personal testimonies appears to be a distasteful task. However, to briefly elaborate on involuntary or enforced disappearances: it is defined as a person arrested by the law enforcing agencies, followed by state denial of such arrest, and finally the fate of the person remains unknown. According to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which entered into force on July 1, 2002, when committed as a part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, "forced disappearances" qualify as a crime against humanity, which thus cannot be subject to 'statute of limitation' (a statute which sets for the maximum period of time, after certain events, that legal proceedings based on those events may be initiated). The International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances, adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 20, 2006, also gives victims' families the right to seek reparations and to demand the truth about the disappearance of their loved ones.
The recognition given to the right to demand truth takes into consideration the psychosocial trauma witnessed by surviving members. It is not simply the political uncertainty that Kashmir faces as a state, but unresolved uncertainty faced by family members with regards to the status of their loved ones. The usual government strategy is to deny enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings and exercise a kind of censorship on the subject. While the body of the victim might itself be evidence, with signs and codes of torture, its very invisibility creates a state of suspension. Firstly, the family of the victim, for instance, cannot mourn or grieve his death since the state denies it. Second, they do not possess the body to be mourned, to be buried. Also, the wife of the victim is unable to marry unless her husband is declared dead or a certain period of time has lapsed. Women who face such circumstances have been called 'half-widows' due to the uncertainty of their status.
I came back home with my in laws but I found no peace, my heart was still restless. My in-laws told me to come with them to Bemina where they lived. "What will you do here now?" they asked. Two days after I moved to Bemina there was an army raid there too. I told them that my coming there was useless. "I am suffering something, I don't know. I will go back to Raj Bagh to my rented house." I went. In my neighbourhood there were rumours that my husband was still with the army. I went to ask them and they said "Aren't you Hameed's wife? Why have you come back here?" my in-laws told them that she had been upset there so we brought her back here. Someone among them said "Chalo, chalo, Hameed ka samaan mil gaya." That is all I heard from that time to this. I have heard nothing of him. I am living just to raise my children. I go from house to house cleaning rice, washing utensils, cooking - that is how I support my family.
(Coughs with exertion and starts to cry)
Interviewer: Did you ever try approaching the court?
Shafiqa: That I know nothing about. I had to leave my rented house in Raj Bagh and am now living in a one-room shed near my brother in Gawkadal. My in-laws haven't helped me for so long, they have left me on my own. I live in my shed now and whatever I earn I support my children with.
I: How old are they?
S: My eldest son is 6. My youngest boy is 3 years old.
I: Do they study?
S: Yes, the Yateem Trust is supporting their education.
I: Do you think your husband is alive?
S: What can I say? God only knows.
I: (Again) What do you think?
S: I don't know. Only God knows. What can we say?
I: What do you think of the present situation? What is your opinion of it?
S: I don't think anything. I don't want anything. I want the whole world to turn upside down. Some say something, some say another. I don't want anything from it all. I have enough problems of my own. How much can one do?
(Gulps back tears)
Shafiqa tells us in the interview that she briefly lived with her in-laws in Bemina. Later she moved back to her rented house in Raj Bagh. On being asked if she ever approached the court, she doesn't say much but tells us that she left the house in Raj Bagh and now lives in a small room, next to her brother's in Gawkadal (which is not as affluent an area as Raj Bagh). She works in several houses as a domestic help to support her 2 children. The interviewer keeps probing her to answer if she thinks her husband is alive. She avoids the question several times before answering with some exasperation that she wants the whole world to turn upside down. Amidst all the uncertainty, her answer appears to be an oddly personal yet steady response. The personal upheaval and suffering that her husband's disappearance has brought upon her refuses, I think (this is an entirely subjective opinion) to be circumscribed or contained within or for the sake of larger, collective discourses. Her response emphatically brings attention to her specific, individual fate and suffering which (her response seems to suggest) cannot be subsumed into another narrative. It has no closure, nor does she her response suggest that she seeks a larger narrative outside her. (Suggested Films: 'Chandaw' produced by JKCCS, 'Yi as akh Padshah Bai' by Kavita Pai and Hansa Thapliyal, and 'Waiting...')
My name is Parveen Ahangar (In Urdu)
I live in Dhobi Mohalla, Batamaloo. My son studied in Matric, went to his cousin's to study, stayed there the night. There was a raid and he was picked up. He was picked up and I knew that he has innocent, he was dumb - I thought he would be released. The next day I went to the Police - Batmaloo Police Station and the Control Room as well. The police told me they would release him, they assured me that they knew he was innocent. They had earlier picked up his brother as well but had released him. They would release him too. DG Saxena gave me a pass to go to Badamibagh Cantonment. I went there but they told me that even though your son is here we can't let him go. They didn't even let me see him, didn't tell me where they were keeping him.
Three times I went to Badamibagh. The third time DG Saxena provided me with a pass and a car. I got there and I got a Photostat copy of the pass made in Lal Chowk. After my third visit, I used this to get into the cantonment. Once a Subedar told me that he would show me where my son was. I went with him but that boy he showed me wasn't my son.
The boy's finger had been cut. A man came there and asked, "Sister, what are you searching for?" "My son" I told him. "At least tell me where he is". This man put me touch with a driver from the control room who assured me that he would find my son on his own. He went to look at the BB Cantt hospital but didn't find him. I went back to PCR but they told me I needed to lodge a court case. I did that too.
Parveena Ahangar has been an active public figure in Kashmir. As she narrates in this interview, her son Javed Ahmad Ahangar was picked up and detained when he was very young (Std. X student, 16 years). She actively sought him, at the police station, at control room. She even approached the state Director General of police DG Saxena who gave her a pass to go to the Badamibagh Cantonment. Despite reassurances from individual in some position of power and the police she failed to get in touch with her son. But she did lodge a court case.
Parveena Ahangar formed the Association of Parents of the Disappeared in 1994 along with human rights lawyer and activist Pervez Imroz. Parveena has been an extremely active in mobilizing parents and relatives who have experienced similar losses and enabled the formation of a collective in order to create a solidarity group and, with the help of Pervez Imroz (although there appears to have been a fall out between APDP and JKCCS of late) led a rights awareness campaign. APDP and JKCCS have, over the years, documented disappearances across Kashmir. (more information available at http://www.geocities.com/apdpkashmir/press.htm
In 1990 they arrested him, in 1991 I lodged a court case. In 1992, Sessions Judge Abdul Rehman Bhat instituted an enquiry into the case.
I went to Ramnagar and Hiranagar Jails and spoke to two boys who had been taken when he was taken. Showkat Ahmed Khan and Afaaq Ahmed Bathboo. They testified that they had told the army that the boy was not a militant and should be released. The army said they would release him in time. But they didn't. The enquiry progressed and the SP and two SHOs assisting the enquiry proved that my child had been taken. Then my case was shifted to the CJM court on the argument that the Sessions Court didn't have adequate jurisdiction. The CJM was Gausiaji. She told me "Parveen, you go and file a writ in the High Court." I filed a writ, my case is still ongoing. The enquiry traced three officers from Assam who were a part of the arrest. One of them is suffering from cancer and has been in Pune hospital. They took a statement but the doctor said that if you take him to Srinagar he will die en route. Then they brought the 2 officers and imprisoned them at Badamibagh. Col. Joshi there said to me "Sister, what would you like? I'm willing to give you Rs. 10 lakh. I said I don't want." I said to him, I don't need any money. Even if you were to give me a crore, I don't need it. I want my son.
Then the police sent my file for sanction, it's been 4 years today. It's with the Delhi Home Minister. They have yet to sanction it. Then I filed another writ in the High Court. They issued another notice and they said they are high ranking (officials) they will not be convicted. The case is where it was at the CJM court and is still pending at the High Court. There was no justice there, nor at the CJM court. No justice
Parveena tells us how, over the years, she has persistently filed court cases and followed up leads to find her son as well as fight for justice. Even though she mentions witnesses who claim her son was not a militant and the army said that they would release him, the whereabouts of her son remain unknown. Despite tracing three culpable officers in Assam, she says that she has been offered a huge amount of money to drop the case. She appears to have traveled across the state as well as country for justice; however, she has been advised that those guilty are high ranking officials and not likely to be punished.
Parveena laments the lack of justice, yet one can't fail to be awed by her persistence and commitment. Over the years she has organized several public meetings and protest demonstrations in Srinagar. She has actively extended support to women who visit her and whom she visits. (See 'Chandaw' available with JKCCS, and 'Yi as akh padshah bai' by Kavita Pai and Hansa Thapliyal)
Parveena tells us that in response to Divisional Commissioner Khursheed Ganai's notice in the paper announcing a compensation package for families with missing members, she approached him with rhetorical argument asking if it would be alright for her to kidnap his child and offer three times the compensation amount - thus drawing attention to the incommensurability of her loss and her pain.
She tells us of how she traveled to the various prisons in India, including the ones at Meerut and Tihar only to return without her son. She also met Ali Mohd. Sagar, the Minister for Home affairs and presented a list of 128 missing boys but he refused to confirm it.
The website mentioned earlier http://www.geocities.com/apdpkashmir/press.htm
also brings to notice the financial implications of seeking missing relatives. The economic dimension should ideally also include the loss of a male member of the family, therefore a young earning member. That apart, the cost of travel, of paying for information regarding the missing family member as well as supporting any dependents seems like an uphill task. In several cases, relatives are said to have spent lakhs of rupees to know the whereabouts of their family members.
Then in 2000 the then Divisional Commissioner Khursheed Ahmed Ganai gave a notice in the paper for all those with missing family members to come and speak directly with him. He offered official compensation for our missing family members - said each family would receive Rs 1 lakh. I told him to hand over one of his children for me to take away and offered him triple the money. What shall I do? I asked him. If the same happens to the CM Farooq Abdullah, he will know my plight. This pain is so intense, there is no rest day or night. Then he suggested that we form an association of relatives of missing persons but we didn't have a space for meeting. If we had met outside, police would have arrested us.
I asked him to hold a meeting in his compound which is a security zone. I feared meeting outside would make us vulnerable to army shootouts. I didn't want for us to be shot an then branded as 'conspiring militants'. Then I went to every jail - Tihar, Meerut, Jodhpur but didn't find anything but disappointments. I went to meet Ali Mohd Sagar who had just become the Minister for Home. I had a list of 128 boys who were missing. His only response was since he had assumed office, no incidents of such kind had occurred.
I asked him to tell me the truth - even if my son was dead, to tell me. He didn't.
In 18th July 2001, APDP had raised a memorial commemorating those that have disappeared. However, the police along with the BSF demolished this structure claiming that the land upon which was built/to be built belonged to the government. Parveena therefore approached the Auqaf Trust but was advised by them to visit Farooq Abdullah.
The demolition of this memorial gives a more physical manifestation of the kind of censorship and repression that is exercised over the issue disappearances. The family members do not have a body to bury and mourn, the fate of their male relative remains unknown, unconfirmed. The government denies disappearances. And, as if to add insult to injury, the memorial stone itself is demolished as if to erase any visible indicator, reference to disappearances.
Despite this, Parveena and other members of the association continue to file court cases and hope for justice, or at least establishing the truth.
Later he gave an interview and used my story for a personal gain. But even after he assumed office, countless other people from Kashmir went missing. 18th July we raised a memorial to our missing family members, a simple stone engraved with their names. Because we had nothing else to mourn over, not even grave. We thought that this would keep them alive in our memories. But the police arrested us and Mr Parvez Imroz and put us in custody. They also seized the stone.
After my release I went to Muslim Auqaf Trust and asked what crime we had committed. I told the incharge, that "when your father died, you acquired a plot near the lake for his grave. We don't even have graves to mourn over. Where will we go?"
He told me to go and meet the CM Farooq Abdullah. but when I met the Secretary, she told me he doesn't meet anyone.
This led me to form the association especially for the young girls with 2/3 young children, whose husbands were missing. They come to meet me and talk to me. They get reassurance through this. The association files cases in the court on their behalf and I keep going there - this gives them hope.
My household has been destroyed in this time. My husband has developed serious ailments and my eldest son has to attend to him constantly. My second son is a graduate, we supported his studies with great financial difficulty and he has to work at a low salaried job in the public sector. The third son is also ill. It took Rs 30000 last month for his eye to be operated upon. My daughter is also ill. My house has been destroyed completely.
But I have just one thing to say. Till I am alive, I will keep searching, not only for my son, but also for all others, all those who are missing. After I die, someone will stand in my stead and continue.. "My heart says...(In Kashmiri)".
There are 6000 missing persons. Even if they have killed 2000 or 3000, they cant have killed all 6000. those from villages are the worst affected. When you go there you are saddened at their state. No one even listens to them. I met a woman from Bandipora who has lost all her sons. One of them went to the forest but didn't return, 2 were killed. The 4th had gone to buy bread at the bakery when he was arrested and taken by the army. She managed to meet him once but thereafter he went missing.
The mother of 4 sons is alone now, living with a blind husband.
My heart says my son is alive. There is something fishy here - when the army kills so many people everyday and no one says anything, why can't they say openly that they have killed these 6000.
When Farooq Abdullah was interviewed by Naeema Mehjoor on BBC radio, he declared that there are no missing persons in Kashmir. He asked her "In which mirror do you view Kashmir? There are no missing here."
If the people of Kashmir are lying, then why did the same Farooq Abdullah state in the State Assembly that there at 3000 people missing.
In Kashmir, the Association says that these arrests of innocent people should stop, we campaign for this. We also meet and talk and see how each family is coping. What else can we do?
Parveena talks about the difficulties that her family has had to cope with and the impact these difficulties have had on their health and well-being as well as their finances. She is a determined woman and a gritty interviewee. She also tells of another woman in Bandipora who has lost 4 sons and lives with her blind husband.
Most significantly Parveena is a determined activist committed to not just finding the truth about her own son but establishing the truth regarding enforced disappearances and putting an end to disappearances. Despite the mounting numbers (she says 6000 at the time of this interview and 10,000 in recent interviews) she appears to be actively engaged in this endeavour and bringing international attention to the issue.
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