The Endless Wait for Justice: Enforced Disappearances in Kashmir

Parveena Ahangar has united victims across the valley to demand that the state give them back their disappeared family members.

Losing a child is hard enough. But imagine not knowing where he might be and waiting for 27 years. One fateful night in 1990, Parveena Ahangar’s seventeen-year-old son was captured by paramilitary personnel on the suspicion of being a militant. Parveena has waited ever since for some definitive news on where her son might be. And she is not alone. Unofficial estimates by human rights groups establish the figure of ‘disappeared people’ at over 8000. Added to this is the definitive proof of unmarked, mass graves of over 7000 people.

By 1994, Parveena’s dogged determination to get justice despite the complete failure of the judiciary in the valley had led to the formation of Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP). Parveena would travel to remote rural Kashmir to seek out the families of people who had been abducted mostly by the Indian military and paramilitary forces, never to be seen again. “I had to give up the burqa. I had to appear in courts, visit military interrogation centres. It was not possible to do all that in a burqa. I did it for my son,” she says.

Enforced disappearances is only one in the long list of human rights abuses that the Indian state and military establishment in Kashmir stand accused of. However, there has never been any attempt to allow the law to take its course and conduct independent enquiries into these cases. From 1993, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture has been denied entry into the valley. Laws like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and the Public Safety Act (PSA) gives impunity to armed personnel in the state in the name of combating insurgents. The results are here to see. In not a single case of rights violation from custodial torture to murder, disappearances, rape has the accused been tried by the civil courts. In the most high profile case of recent times, the armed forces tribunal has suspended the life sentence awarded to the four personnel of Rajputana Rifles for luring Kashmiri villagers with the promise of jobs and killing them, staging it to appear as a foiled infiltration bid by terrorists in Machhil.

Given how the judiciary has failed utterly to successfully address any of the wrongs committed in name of combatting terrorism, Parveena’s grit and determination is nothing short of astounding. She has persevered, travelling from Kashmir to Delhi and Geneva to appeal before international rights bodies. That she has been able to bring together the parents, wives and children of disappeared persons across the valley is nothing if not miraculous. Most of the relatives belong to poor, rural families often without access to lawyers and human rights activists. “They were often threatened to not file FIRs and the police would also not register cases. I assured them that nothing will happen to them, that I will always be in front of them and that I needed them at my back. We have even travelled to Delhi and protested and held hunger strikes at Jantar Mantar,” Parveena adds.

Her activism and pacifism have earned her a Nobel Peace Prize nomination in 2005. Parveena remains steadfast in her goals: “Is the law only for the military, the BSF, the Special Tasks Force? They offer us compensation of one lakh. We don’t want their money. We want our children back.” India has signed but not ratified the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances. Parveena’s indefatigable activism is the only hope to create enough international pressure on India to treat enforced disappearance as the culpable criminal offence it is.

Article by Madhura Chakraborty

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