By Humra Quraishi
Monday, December 26, 2011
A woman in northern India has been leading a search for sons who suffered "enforced disappearances" in the Kashmir Valley years ago. Support for her group is growing, but there is no closure in sight.
SRINAGAR, India (WOMENSENEWS)--Parveena Ahangar hasn't known peace for years.
"I can't describe how each day passes. I keep taking medicines every single day to control my tension. At night, I'm awake. I just can't sleep," Ahangar says.
She's felt this way, she says, ever since the day 21 years ago when she lost her son.
"My teenaged son, Javed, was picked by the security agencies in 1990," she says.
"Security men came to our Batmaloo home to pick him up, saying they were taking him for interrogation. We pleaded with them, saying he couldn't have done anything wrong, that he had just passed his matriculation. But they didn't listen and took him to the interrogation center at Pari Mahal. We never saw him again."
Ahangar's husband fell ill because of the trauma, and gave up working. He remains in poor health today.
Ahangar lives in the India-administered state of Jammu and Kashmir in the north of the country, near the borders of Pakistan and China, an area plagued by territorial strife and tensions.
She has scoured the Kashmir Valley for news of her son. She has visited jails through the region. She has approached the United Nations. "I've appealed to every possible government authority, to politicians across party lines."
Many other women in the Kashmir Valley recount similar stories.
They say they've sold land, homes, jewelry; exhausted every asset in the search for their children.
Ahangar provides leadership for many of them through the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP), which she co-founded in 1996.
"I have decided never to give up this nonviolent protest of ours until my last breath," she says.
On its website, the APDP describes the problem of "enforced disappearances" as starting in 1989, when a group of young men took up arms against the Indian state in support of the longstanding popular movement for self-determination in Kashmir, which began in 1947 after the creation of India and Pakistan.
"In the name of national security and state interest the massive Indian security apparatus in the state has been operating in a climate of impunity shielded by emergency legal provisions like the Disturbed Area Act and Armed Forces Special Powers Act, which grant immunity against being held accountable," says the site.
Ahangar began her organization after a small group of parents, all of whom had undergone the trauma of having their children taken away from them and then found missing, came together.
Support has been building.
This year, she was nominated for the Frontline Human Rights Defenders Award 2011. Civil libertarians in India are aiding her efforts. A prominent academic, Uma Chakravarti, has formed a support group for the APDP in New Delhi.
The once-tiny group now has offices in almost all districts of the Kashmir Valley. Ahangar says it's difficult to keep count of the members.
She is currently trying to prosecute security forces for the disappearance of her son through a lawsuit in the High Court with a prominent lawyer, Zafar Shah, volunteering to represent her.
"I could not have afforded a lawyer," says Ahangar. "Fortunately for me, Zafar sahib is not charging me. In fact, there are many lawyers in the state who have taken up the cases of missing children without charging a paisa (a cent) because they realize that we are not in a position to pay and the issue is a crucial one that needs to be redressed. It is an outrage that while we continue to suffer, those responsible for the crime have not been booked and are, in fact, roaming about freely."
The APDP members have met numerous prominent political leaders of the Kashmir Valley, to no avail so far.
Ahangar says she asks all of them the same question: How would they feel if their own young sons were picked up and never seen again?
When Radha Kumar, the government appointed interlocutor, visited the APDP office in Srinagar, Ahangar says she asked her to ask all the high-ranking female politicians in New Delhi how they would react if their innocent children were to be picked up and tortured by security agencies.
The APDP has long argued that over 8,000 men have gone missing in the Kashmir Valley, a stance vindicated by the recent report of the State Human Rights Commission of Jammu and Kashmir, which confirmed that over 2,000 bodies lie in unmarked graves in 38 locations in the state.
The state government has now even offered to conduct DNA profiling on these bodies in order to identify them.
Ahangar, however, refuses to be diverted by the issue of unmarked graves.
"I know this whole issue of unmarked graves is a very serious one," she says, "but don't link the missing with that issue because then attention will get diverted. This is what the government authorities want; they don't want attention to be focused on our missing children."
She points out how, over the years, misleading facts and figures have been put out for public consumption, but the truth has always remained hidden.
With no closure in sight, Ahangar says there is no APDP member who will ever give up.
"I just pray to Allah to give me the 'himmat' (courage) to carry on," she says.
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Humra Quraishi is a correspondent for the Women's Feature Service in Mumbai, India.
Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons:
After WikiLeaks Report, Torture Victims Speak out in Kashmir, Global Press Institute:
In Search of Vanished Blood, The writ of Habeas Corpus in Jammu and Kashmir: 1990 -- 2004: