Govt never addressed the issue of thousands of ‘missing’ Kashmiris
Srinagar: The contemporary Kashmir narrative is incomplete without the citing of unattributed 100,000 killed in the last 20 years of conflict. The same narrative also has an unattributed number of those who’ve disappeared: 10,000. This is the number of Kashmiris picked up, taken for interrogation, starved, beaten and tortured in the last two decades, going by those who make the claim — the leading one among them: Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP).
The ‘disappeared’ have an emotional hold on all Kashmiris. Even the most ‘mainstream’ of Kashmiris get worked up on this issue. Every time they hear 10,000 men have been taken to interrogation centres, beaten, starved, and tortured with electric shocks, there is outrage.
The government has never addressed this issue, but APDP, headed by Parweena Ahangar (52), keeps their memory alive. Ahangar has worked tirelessly to discover the fate of the 10,000 people. She lost her 16-year-old son Javid in 1990. He was picked up by the police and she never saw him again. She set up APDP in 1994 and has since taken it on herself to help others like her.
Ahangar’s efforts have ensured that the ‘‘disappeared of Kashmir’’ are remembered across the world. A Google search will show thousands of sites: From Al Jazeera stories to major western papers reports and human rights organisation talking about the 10,000 Kashmiris who vanished.
In 2005, Ahangar was joint nominee for the Nobel Peace prize and in September this year she will travel to Ireland as a finalist for the Frontline Human Rights Award. APDP had journalism students from Delhi working with them recently. ‘‘We thought they should be exposed to the reality of what the Indian government is doing here. They will help make India aware of the fate of thousands of brothers and husbands who never returned,’’ said she.
Except that her story has a fatal flaw. APDP, the only organisation representing the disappeared, has only 350 names to show after 16 years of spadework. That’s a staggering difference; the figure of 10,000 is 30 times higher. Still, this figure is unquestioningly quoted by both international organisations, journalists and the average Kashmiri.
The state government acknowledges some 1,200 people are missing, but claims most are men who crossed the LoC and stayed there. In fact, it claims that its rehabilitation policy is specifically directed towards these men, many of whom have married and started families in POK. They reject APDP figures.
Perhaps stung by the government’s charge, APDP, since November 2010, has started a survey to collate the details of the disappeared — a survey financed by UNHCR. But in seven months, it has covered only Srinagar and Kupwara of the 10 districts in the state. Respondents have to fill in a nine-page form that includes details about the people missing, the educational and economic status of the family and details about the legal action or documents like missing reports FIRs filed.
The result of this sevenmonth effort has been 200 more names, but, in most case, APDP acknowledges the details provided are incomplete so even they are unsure. There isn’t even a timeline for the completion of the survey. ‘‘This can take years. We’ve to go door to door, and also verify that the account given to us is factual. So I see a minimum of two to three years,’’ said an APDP official.
The explanation is perplexing on many counts. The Kashmir Valley isn’t a large place; its about 150km long and 50km wide. Anantnag, Sopore Baramulla, Bandipura, Pulwama are within two of hours of Srinagar. The state has a high literacy and excellent roads. There’s nothing to stop APDP from advertising in local papers asking people to come forward on a given day with details of their relatives who are missing in any of these districts.
Nor is it clear why it has taken seven months to catalogue just two districts, that too incompletely. If APDP’s voice can reach Geneva, London, Dublin and New York, it can surely be heard in Tral and Shopian?
APDP must also answer how exactly it arrived at the figure of 10,000 with a list of 350 names. ‘‘It’s fear. Many families are scared. That’s why they kept quiet,’’ said one APDP official. It’s this fear that, APDP claims, made 9,650 families do nothing for 20 long years, as year after year their sons, husbands and brothers were systematically picked up and vanished.
Even 350 men missing is tragic. It means 350 families have been destroyed in 20 years. But for 20 years the ‘‘thousands missing’’ calls have only made the government trenchant in dismissing these claims. These 350 Kashmiri men, like their brothers who live in the Valley, are pawns in a propaganda war. Serving a higher cause, a cause that brooks no pity, a cause that demands sacrifices.
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