Kashmir's disappeared: Looking for the lost

Parents of disappeared persons in disputed Kashmir search for the truth about their missing relatives…

Since 1994 the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) in Kashmir has campaigned for the right to know the truth about their missing loved ones.
On the 25th of every month parents of the missing assemble in the Sher-e-Kashmir Municipal Park, outside the People's Democratic Parties (PDP) headquarters, in protest against the enforced or involuntary disappearances in Kashmir and Jammu.

Indian-administered Kashmir has been a flashpoint between India and Pakistan for more than 50 years. Many people have vanished, presumed dead or imprisoned without trial or record.

Wearing white head bands with the names of the disappeared written on them in black ink, the parents come in the morning and sit in the park until the afternoon.

Their aim is simple. They want to attract the attention of both the government and the media.

Chairperson of the APDP, Parveena Ahanger says: "Our demand is that the government should first stop subjecting people to enforced disappearances and should secondly investigate all these cases. We come here to sit and protest to tell them we are fighting for our children. We don't need any compensation or ex-gratia relief. We just want information."

Her son Javid Ahmad Ahanger was picked up by security forces on 18 August 1990 when he was just 16. She has since heard nothing from him.

During the last 15 years of turmoil in Jammu and Kashmir the APDP claims that more than 8,000 people have been subjected to enforced disappearances by the state.

Among the relatives is Fahmeeda Sang, who lives in a remote village of Kupwara.

Her husband was allegedly picked up by the security forces 14 years ago.

"If my husband is alive I want to see him," she begs.

"I want the authorities to tell me where he is. If he has been killed let them hand over his body to me".

Despite old age and poverty, mother of four Hajra Begum comes to Srinagar from her distant village every month to sit in protest along with other parents of the disappeared persons.

Begum has finished mourning the death of her three sons, who she says were killed by the Indian army.

But she still hopes for news about her fourth son, Bashir, who has been missing for 10 years.

"I still wait for him to come. I hope we will hear some news of him," she says.

APDP has filed a petition in court against senior politician of the state Professor Bhim Singh, president of Jammu and Kashmir Panthers Party and a coalition partner in the state government.

He recently said 4,000 of the disappeared were in Reasi Jail in Jammu and Kashmir.

According to the patron of APDP, Parvez Imroz, 142 cases of enforced disappearances have taken place under the Mufti regime, which assumed office in 2002.

"They are insensitive towards our demands. So far eight to 10,000 people have disappeared since 1989," says Imroz.

"So far neither the state government nor Singh himself have refuted the report. So we have filed a petition in Jammu and Kashmir High Court, Srinagar, to seek more information from Bhim Singh," continues Imroz.

Relatives have been protesting in the park since July 2004. No-one except journalists and state investigators have visited them.

One old man from Kupwara who is still waiting to hear about his missing son said: "You come to gather news, they come to see whether we may march on the road."

A statement issued by the APDP on 25 November accused the International Community of Red Cross (ICRC) of maintaining a "meaningful silence" on the custodial disappearances in Kashmir.

"APDP acknowledges the contribution of the ICRC worldwide particularly in the conflict areas, but in Jammu and Kashmir it feels its presence is only helpful to the state and not to the victims," the statement says.

“That status quo maintained by the ICRC will further erode its credibility before the people of Kashmir,” it concludes