The Never-Ending Search– Parveena Ahangar’s Mission to Bring Home the Disappeared

At first glance, Parveena Ahangar is an unassuming yet determined woman. In her own words she is an ‘illiterate who never stepped far from her house’. Yet so much has changed in the thirty years since Indian Army forces abducted her son. In that time, she has become the face and for many, the only hope thousands of Kashmiris have to see their disappeared sons again.

She is one of many who has not seen her son in over thirty years. On August 18th, 1990, her son, Javeed Ahmed Ahangar, was abducted by the Indian Army. He was only in grade 11 at the time.

Since Javeed’s abduction, she has only been met with obstruction, flagrant denials, red tape, and outright lies from the occupying authorities. Yet, rather than remaining silent in the face of such oppression– she fights not only for her son, but the many others who have disappeared under similar circumstances by founding the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP).
“I told my husband to run home– and I would search for my son and fight,” she said.

Extrajudicial violence is endemic in Kashmir

The 30 year period has not diminished the amount of state-sponsored violence in Kashmir. In fact, it has only accelerated after the Indian Government abrogated Article 370. India has committed overt and disproportionate levels of violence against the people of Kashmir.

Extrajudicial killings, abductions, indefinite detentions, gang rapes, and widespread destruction of property have become a tool of terror by the state.

India maintains that the men in question left to train with separatist militias in Pakistan – a claim that is rejected by the families of the disappeared. And if that was the case where are they? Why doesn’t India allow impartial international investigators to visit Kashmir, India and Pakistan to find them?

Many of those who disappeared are minors. The  APDP estimates that “a majority of those disappeared are young men. Others include people of all ages, professions, and backgrounds, many of whom have no connection with the armed opposition groups operating in Kashmir.”

A life interrupted

Parveena has spent 30 years looking for her son. “I went to police stations, I traveled to army camps, I went to forests, villages and everywhere I could reach,” she told DW, adding, “my longing for my son made me go to places I never imagined going to.”

She soon discovered that she wasn’t alone. She would often see advertisements and articles in the Urdu newspapers about families who wrote about their disappeared children. She would save these articles and soon she would be joining forces with her families, forming the APDP in 1994 an organization she continues to chair.

“[Enforced disappearances] are more painful than death,” Parveena said. “When someone dies, he has a grave. His family sees his dead body, touches his face. At least there is emotional closure. But when your child is taken away and disappears, you don’t know what to do. You struggle between longing and hope. You don’t know where he is, what he is doing, or what happened to him. There is so much trauma, and so many storms rage inside you.”

A never-ending search

Sadly, many of those families who have members who have disappeared are never heard from again and there is no official or legal acknowledgment or conviction for a crime.

They are just simply gone.

The courts have given the victims no justice.

The discovery of mass graves throughout Kashmir since 2007 has led many to fear the worst for their loved ones.

All APDP can do is fight to ensure other families do not suffer the same fate. APDP engages in peaceful protests, sit-ins, and displays photos of the missing. Yet even these activities frequently evoke the wrath of the occupational authorities. India has severely restricted protesting, especially after Article 370 was abrogated, and COVID restrictions further exacerbated the problem.

In October 2020, officials raided APDP and accused Parveena of separatist activities.

Unfortunately, human rights activists and defenders in Kashmir continue to be targeted, harassed, and even killed by state and non-actors alike.

The struggle continues

Despite the stonewalling and harassment from authorities, Parveena continues. She has been recognized internationally as a leader in the fight for human rights. She was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2015 and received Norway’s Rafto Prize in 2017. She has even been dubbed the Iron Lady of Kashmir.

Parveena Ahangar is humble in the face of such accolades. “I am not a leader, I am a sufferer. I will not give up the hope of seeing my son, who has been gone for 29 years. But this is not my struggle alone. If the government assured me that Javed would return today, I would say no. First, bring back the disappeared sons and husbands of other Kashmiris. Bring Javed last.”