It was one of those ironic moments that you come across every now and then in a conflict zone like Kashmir. As fleets of Eid shoppers swarmed to the city centre, in a desolate park, just opposite the busy Residency Road, a group of people under the banner of Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) sat in a lonely corner to register their protest on the International Disappearance Day. With lens-men Umar Qadir, Zahoor Zargar and Faisal Khan, Junaid Rather reports.
The protests began with the launch of a signature campaign inside Pratap Park. In this picture above you see Parveen Ahangar- the president of APDP putting her signature.Ahangar, nominated for Nobel Peace Award, has been a victim herself. As you can see a woman tries to console her as she breaks down during the protest. At the outbreak of insurgency, her son, who was in his teens, was picked from relative’s house in uptown Batamaloo. Since then, Ahangar has moved courts and travelled to every jail in the state, even to many outside. The fate of her son, however, remains unknown.With the disclosure by the State’s premier human rights body- State Human Rights Commission about the presence of unmarked graves in three north Kashmir’s district the ominous fear of the relatives of disappeared has resurfaced. “The issue of unmarked graves and enforced disappearances is interlinked,” says Ahangar. However, she adds both issues should be investigated and dealt separately.She feels, “The families of the victims of enforced disappearances have always had a hope of the return of their sons and fathers. The complete overlap of these two issues has led to even denial of this hope.”The families are of the view that first already identified “perpetrators” should be made accountable and prosecuted and if required DNA profiling should be done.Shabir Ahmed Khan, 31, a resident of Kawari Ladrewan, in Kupwara district went missing on November 2, 2006. He was working in the with Army’s Jaklin regiment and it was while he was returning for his posting in Jammu, he went missing. He is survived by his wife Saleema, 2 sons, Faisal, 10, and Momin, 4, and daughter Rimshah, who is 8-year-old. “Contrary to the expectations of the family, the army refused to set up any investigation committee to enquire about his sudden disappearance and it was on 5th February 2008 that the army regiment declared him a deserter,” says Ahangar.
Although being a Muslim majority state, there are many from the minority community who remain missing. In 1999, a Sikh boy, Ichpal Singh, 13, went missing on April 8, from Handwara region in North Kashmir. Singh’s family moved the SHRC alleging that he was picked up by the government force. The state police responded saying, “He (Singh) was vagabond, flamboyant and had gone missing earlier also so he might have again moved out of the house.” Twelve years later, Singh has not returned.
These days, funded by the United Nations, the APDP is undertaking a survey of disappeared persons in every district of the State. According to APDP records there is a disturbing figure of around 8,000 to 10,000 missing persons in Kashmir since 1990. Approximately 4,000 are missing alone from north Kashmir’s Kupwara district.