Maimoona is in her late thirties and for half of her life she has been looking for the whereabouts of her husband Akhtar Hussain Bhat who was subjected to enforced disappearance in 1996.The 17-year search for Maimoona has not yielded anything as the government continues to turn its back on the sufferings of the families of the disappeared persons.
Maimoona’s son Faizan Akhtar, who was just a few months old when Bhat disappeared, is preparing for his 10th standard board examination as her mother struggles to make ends meet for the family.
Talking to Rising Kashmir at her modest two-room residence in Barbarshah, Maimoona said Police Station Nehru Park had ‘buried’ the missing report of her husband.
“When I argued with the Police officials, they raided the house of my brothers several times and even raided my work place and detained me for a while,” she said. “Two policemen also stole two pairs of gold rings and cash from my brothers promising to provide information about the whereabouts of my husband.”
Maimoona is against the view of some clerics who want half-widows like her to remarry.
“If I remarry, who will take care of my Faizan,” she said.
Maimoona is suffering from various ailments like deficiency of thyroid, gout, diabetes and arthritics and has to spend over Rs 10,000 on her treatment every month although her salary per month is only Rs 2000.
“I am able to get a medical treatment only because of the Chairperson of Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons Parveena Ahangar,” she said. “She provides us monetary support and also takes care of the education of my son.”
Parveena’s own son Javed Ahmad was subjected to custodial disappearance by the troops of 20 Grenadiers on the night of August 18, 1990.
She is now fighting not only to know the whereabouts of her son but thousands of other youth subjected to enforced disappearance in the State.
According to various human rights organizations, between 8000 to 10,000 youth have been subjected to enforced disappearance since 1989, year when anti-India armed rebellion broke out in the Valley.
“I have promised my God that I will fight for knowing the whereabouts of my son and others who have been subjected to custodial disappearance in Kashmir until I breathe my last,” Ahangar said.
Ahangar is now spearheading the campaign of the parents of disappeared persons who are looking for the whereabouts of their children and other family members.
“We don’t demand compensation or jobs but only the whereabouts of our children and if they have killed them, they should return their bodies to us,” she said. “The Indian troops snatched our sons from us and they are with them not dead or anywhere else.”
Ahangar identified the three Army officers, who detained her son, as Captain Katoch, Captain Danush and Major Gupta.
Terming the judiciaries in the State to be operating with powerless judges, she said: “I was offered a compensation of Rs 1 lakh for my son. I didn’t accept the money as I could not have sold my son like a vendor sells a broiler chicken.”
India is a part of many UN conventions and treaties against enforced disappearances, but impunity to armed forces in such cases involved has been criticized.
Like Maimoona and Ahangar, Shamima Gasi, Aijaz Ahmad Dar, Imtiyaz Ahmad, Umar Mukhtar and Amir Mushtaq are also looking for the whereabouts of their dear ones.
Shamima Gasi’s husband Shabir Ahmad, a fruit vendor, was detained by the troops of 6 RR of the Indian Army in year 2000 from Bemina where he lived.
“We looked for him in Kupwara, in Handwara and everywhere,” Shamima said. “The court ordered a compensation of Rs 1 lakh but we didn’t accept it.”
Shamima continues to look for the whereabouts of her husband even as she battles to bring up her two children who study in the 4th standard by working as a labourer.
Waseem Ahmad Dar of Maisuma too has been striving for finding his disappeared brother Aijaz Ahmad Dar who went missing after a firing in Buchwara area of Dalgate in 1991.
Aijaz worked as a mechanic denting cars at a workshop.
Wasim said the family had filed an FIR about Aijaz’s enforced disappearance at Police Station Maisuma.
However, after the police station caught fire in 2006, the paper work of their case has been caught in wrangles as police officials are citing an excuse that their file had been burnt in the fire.
“We are being tossed from Deputy Commissioner’s Office to CID office and from police station to police station,” Wasim said.
Another similar story is of Bashir Ahmad Sheikh, a painter from Zakura, who was subjected to enforced disappearance in 1992.
“He left for Maisuma for getting paint and never returned,” said Bashir’s son Imtiyaz Ahmad.
He said the government had promised a job to one of the family members and compensation of Rs 1 lakh and later said that it would be unable to provide a job but would compensate by providing Rs 4 lakh.
“We haven’t received anything,” Imtiyaz said.
Like Imtiyaz, Umar Mukhtar too has been struggling to know the whereabouts of his father Mania Tancha of Chek Dhara.
Tancha was detained by the troops of 28 RR on August 2, 2005.
“After detaining him, the Army promised our family to release my father soon,” Umar said. “Our family has been waiting since.”
Now Tancha’s wife Begam Jan has to take care of Umar, his brother Ishfaq and three daughters.
Amir Mushtaq is no different than Imtiyaz and Umar.
His father Mushtaq Ahmad Khan of Tengpora Batamaloo Byepass was detained by the troops of 20 Grenadiers of the Army from his residence in the night of April 13, 1997.
The family’s search for Mushtaq too has not yielded any fruit.
Amir is the eldest of the three son of Mustaq who also has a daughter.
Human Rights defender and the winner of 2006 Reebok Human Rights Award Khurram Parvez said the government would every time come up with different numbers about the enforced disappeared persons.
“When Mufti (Mohammad Sayeed) Sahib took over as the chief minister of the State, he put the numbers at 50 to 60. Later on his minister put the number at 3744. After a few months, the number was updated to 3931,” said Parvez, who co-founded the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS).
The government led by Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has continued to give different numbers about the persons subjected to enforced disappearances.
“In 2009, the National Conference-led government put the numbers of disappeared persons at 3429 and since then have kept on changing these numbers,” he said.
Inconsistency on part of the government in providing the exact figures on the disappeared portrays the seriousness of the government to deal with the issue.
“We filed an RTI regarding the number of disappeared in 2011 but so far the government has failed to respond,” Parvez said. “This proves that the government wants to hide something or is not aware of the realities.”
In international human rights law, disappearances at the hands of the State have been codified as “enforced” or “forced disappearances” since the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action.
Parvez said none of the subsequent governments led by Farooq Abdullah, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, Ghulam Nabi Azad and Omar Abdullah was sincere to deal with the issue of enforced disappearance.
“All these government tried to sabotage the truth and either delayed or denied justice,” he said.
According to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which came into force on July 1, 2002, when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed at any civilian population, a “forced disappearance” qualifies as a crime against humanity and, thus, is not subject to a statute of limitations.
On 20 December 2006, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.
Parvez said the Supreme Court had never taken suo motto cognizance about the enforced disappearance of over 8000 people but on the contrary taken note of the death of 67 Amarnath yatris due to hostile weather conditions and LPG shortage.
He also gave examples of how the judiciary had protected police officers like Khuldeep Khoda and Shiv Murari Sahai after cases were filed against them by the victims of human rights violations.
Parvez termed observing the International Day of the Disappeared on August 30 in Kashmir as a day of remembering all the persons who had been subjected to enforced disappearance in the State.
“Ultimately, these people have coped up, survived and proved resilient,” he said.
Parvez drew parallels between Nazi Germany and India saying Government of India was doing in Kashmir what the Nazi Germans had done to the Jews.
Senior separatist leader and Chairman of Democratic Freedom Party, Shabir Ahmad Shah said he had always raised the issue of enforced disappearance with the ambassadors of the European Union and the United States.
“As the inquiries ordered by the government over the past 20 years have not yielded any results, it is high time for a UN investigating tem to probe the issue of the disappearances in Kashmir,” said Shah, who was once named ‘Prisoner of Conscience’ by the Amnesty International for his unflinching stand on Kashmir.
Shah blamed the Government of India and the subsequent State governments for the disappearances of Kashmiri youth.
“We don’t get to see any democratic principles of India in Kashmir,” he said.
Zahiruddin, a human rights activist, journalist and author of ‘Did They Vanish in Thin Air, a book on Kashmir’s disappeared said he had talked to a number of women whose husbands had been subjected to enforced disappearance and most of them would not feel comfortable about the idea of remarriage.
“They tell me: ‘If I remarry, our resistance will die the next day’. So forcing them to marry is not appropriate for them as well as for our resistance movement,” said Zahiruddin, whose another book ‘Flashback Kashmir Story Since 1846’ was released in June this year.
Faisul Yaseen can be mailed at email@example.com