20-year battle for sons taken away

She’s lost some teeth since she began her battle but none of her bite. The problem is none of her biting has yielded, and she does not know where it will hurt those that she blames for her loss.

It has been 21 years since Javed Ahmed Ahangar, then 16, was picked up on a strip-search cordon operation by the paramilitary on the outskirts of Srinagar.

Never to be seen again, never to be heard of.

Complaints and petitions were first not heard and then got kicked about like a paper ball in the storm that was the Kashmir of 1990s. From the local police to the paramilitary to the army to the government and finally to the courts of justice.

But nothing, no sign of Javed Ahmed Ahangar. Habeas Corpus became merely the letter of the law, its spirit blown.
This isn’t the first time Parveena Ahangar is telling her story, but she won’t tire of it. And it remains worth retelling, if only because the search for Javed Ahangar, citizen of India, refuses to conclude.

Is he now 37 and somewhere, or is he now part of an ignominious corner democracy has painted for itself in Kashmir? Does he lie interred in one of those thousands of unmarked graves whose inquiry is gaining new impetus in the Valley?
The Kashmiri in her, inured to the relentless churn of crisis all around, must somewhere insist Parveena reconcile to Javed being part of the many anonymous dead. But the mother in her won’t give in. "How can I accept he is dead when nobody has told me so?" she argues.

It’s as much a rhetorical consolation to herself as it is a dare to democracy. "They took him, they should account for him, nobody tells me he is dead, he must be somewhere and I want him back, I shan’t rest until I do."

Parveena has refused to dabble in the dark swirl over Kashmir’s mass graves. "That’s another story," she’d tell you, "They could be boys trying to cross the borders, they could be militants, that story must be revealed too. But my boy, they took my boy alive, from in front of my house, they must tell me where he is."

Over the past two decades, she’s been into more jails than most – Jammu, Delhi, Meerut, Jodhpur, Kanpur, Srinagar. But she has found her son nowhere. "He must be somewhere, it cannot be he has vanished, and if he has, the government should tell me where."

The Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP), which Parveena founded and now heads, has a list of more than 10,000 Kashmiris, mostly young men and boys, missing over the last 20 years. The International People’s Tribunal for Human Rights and Justice in Kashmir (IPTK) has many more on their records – picked up, killed or simply vanished.

Thousands of people whose whereabouts nobody will account for. The government and its many agencies, the police and the security forces in the main, will put quite another spin on the unsolved saga of the missing – they’re mostly Kashmiris who willingly, and illicitly, crossed over into Pakistan to join the ISI’s terror factories.

Many of them may have been killed, yes, but so what, they were killed in the interests of the realm.

Nobody doubts that in Kashmir, not even those who question the legitimacy of India’s claims over the Valley. There has, after all, been a low-intensity war on here for decades between the Indian forces and those that seek to "liberate" Kashmir through armed struggle; that war had exacted a high toll on both sides; many of its victims have been Kashmiris.

But the story of Kashmir’s missing and dead is far more complicated than an undeclared war between two sides might suggest. Very often, Kashmiri casualties have been scored not in glorious defence of the realm but in macabre pursuit of ambition. They’ve been killed for medals and for money.

Consider this: In the December of 2006, three policemen from Ganderbal in the heart of the Valley – SSP Hans Raj Parihar, DSP Bahadur Ram, ASI Farooq Ahmed Guddoo – were formally rewarded for their gallantry, Rs 1,30,000 in cash, by IG Kashmir S.M. Sahai.

It was a prize for tracking down and killing one Abu Hafiz, meant to be a "dreaded terrorist" from Multan. It later transpired that Abu Hafiz was really Abdul Rehman Padder, a carpenter of humble means from police constable Farooq Padder’s remote village in south Kashmir, and had been lured by him into becoming easy trophy for himself and his masters.

Abdul Rehman Padder’s grave, and several others, were eventually exhumed and SSP Parihar and his killer team put behind bars. But not before they had rampaged out with innocents in the Valley. They said Padder could dig a grave with his fingers, a huge strong man, built like a bear.

He prowled like one too, picking victims with lazy ease, then making swift work of slaughter.

Nazir Ahmed Deka, vendor of perfumes, was a childhood friend and neighbour. Ghulam Nabi Wani, a cloth merchant, was another friend. So was Ali Mohammed Padder, small-time government employee. Abdul Rehman Padder, the carpenter, was the closest to him, a first cousin.

Imagine what constable Padder did to Abdul Rehman Padder, lone son of frail old parents, father of five daughters. He took seventy-five thousand rupees from his cousin on the promise of getting him a job.
Padder had made it big after all: a policeman. He would speak to the right people and get his carpenter cousin a job, but it would cost him something, people want money, you see.

Abdul Rehman collected all he had and gave to the constable. He vanished with the money. Months went by. When Abdul Rehman pressed his cousin, he asked him to come see him in Srinagar.

The constable did make the appointment with his country cousin in Batmaloo, a busy Srinagar hub, but only to bundle him into an unmarked car. That night, Abdul Rehman spent in the police lockup at Ganderbal. Late the next night, he was shoved at the back of a police Gypsy, driven into the desolate woods of Waskar and shot dead by a combined party of policemen and paramilitary and army jawans.

So he couldn’t be identified, they blew his face with bullets. The harried carpenter from Larmoo had become Abu Hafiz, dreaded terrorist from Multan in Pakistan.

Down the line, Farooq Ahmed Padder got his own share of the booty. As he did each time, he supplied his uniformed masters an innocent man as fodder for gold and glory. Ghulam Nabi Wani, the cloth merchant, became Zulfiqar, Lashkar hitman; Moulvi Showkat Ahmed became Abu Zahid, militant from Karachi; Nazir Ahmed Deka, the attar (perfume) seller, became Abu Zubair, a Pakistani militant; Ali Mohammed Padder was dismissed without a name, just a foreign militant.

And each kill put a shine on the prospects of the killers, in the noble name of fighting the country’s war in Kashmir, they were lining their breasts with medals and their pockets with cash.

Farooq Ahmed Padder’s career and crimes probably tell you why wrongdoing has had such a successful and sustained outing in Kashmir. He was a mere police constable, but nobody in Larnoo dared take him on.

How could the poor of Larnoo take on a constable? That could have meant the end of them. He could plant a rumour about your militant connections and set the task force upon you. Or he could plant a gun in your backyard and summon the army. He knew powerful people.

He had teamed up with SSP Parihar, who had been indicted for extra-judicial killings even earlier and ordered arrested by the courts. The government did not touch him. He went on encouraging the likes of Farooq Ahmed Padder.

Nobody upbraided him for what he did. Instead, he was patted on the back. Great job, Padder, keep knocking them. It was good for the case diaries. It was good for SSP saheb, he stood apart with a better kill rate when he went to the monthly operational meetings at headquarters.

It was good for Mother India. Farooq Ahmed Padder was good for Mother India. That’s the rot Kashmir is in. That’s what Parveena Ahangar is biting at.
(Courtesy: The Telegraph)