Pain united the two women. The pain was that of separation. Years ago their sons disappeared. And for years they searched for them together. When Mugli, often called the lonely mother of Kashmir, was in her last hours of life, she made Parveena Ahanger to promise – to continue searching for her son.
These women are part of the tragic landscape of Kashmir. Their sons and husbands were taken away in the night, from the markets, homes and streets. Many years after the men are among the thousands who have disappeared since the insurgency erupted in Kashmir.
Mugli’s searched for his son Nazir Ahmad Teli for 19 long years. The Kashmir’s lonely mother would often say that in the first September of the first tehreek (first year of militant struggle in) – her teacher son Nazir left for school. She never saw him again – she never did and, now, she never will. Mugli had a rare honour that no mother would like to take.
She was among the first mothers of Kashmir whose sons vanished. The tragic club of several thousand women whose young sons or husbands have disappeared, majority of them after being picked up by Indian government forces formed the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons and Mugli was the first member and Parveena, who attended school till class 8th, the guiding power.
Parveena, whose own son was taken away by security forces in 1990, has been in the vanguard of the cause of such women through the organization she founded the APDP in 1994. Parveena’s story is one of pain and longing – a struggle to trace her son, Javed Ahmad, 16-years-old, who was taken by Indian forces and since then is neither announced neither dead nor alive.
One of the most significant outcomes of the two-decade-old ongoing turmoil in Kashmir has been the manner in which women have not only shouldered their own burden of grief but have stepped out in the public sphere to organize themselves.
As Parveena, a housewife, explains, “Whilst I was making the rounds of so many prisons, detention centers and courts across India to uncover the mystery of my disappeared son I felt helpless. My voice was the lone cry in the dark. But then I met hundreds of others like me and I realized that collectively we could make an impact.”
Today the APDP is undertaking a survey of disappeared persons in each 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 and approximately 4,000 are missing alone in North Kashmir’s Kupwara district itself.
APDP also seeks to create awareness on the issues surrounding disappeared persons through sit-ins and protests.Kashmir valley in the midst of a major insurgency and counter-insurgency over the last two decades has seen more than 50,000 people dead, other estimates say the number of killed in last 20 years is nearly 1,00,000.
The militant movement in Kashmir began in late 1980s when the youth here crossed over to Pakistan administered Kashmir for arms training. India reacted to the local militant movement with extreme repression burning down neighborhoods and markets, killing people on suspicion and mass arrests.
Parveena, who has refused assistance from political parties and groups, breaks down and cries as she recalls the agony of that fateful night in 1990, “My son, Javid, left his uncle’s place in Batmaloo that evening. Batmaloo was a stronghold of separatism and security forces mistook him for a militant and took him away.
Those who were present in the neighborhood later told me Javid was forced to take off his clothes and he kept shouting Mouji Mai Bachawtai (Save me my mother) but no one could do anything. “Parveena’s long search began on the same day. She went to the concerned police station and police control room. National Security Guard (NSG) commandos claimed that her son was with them. They had arrested many men belonging to the JKLF (Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front) but her son was not among those who were later released.When police could not locate her son they suggested Parveena to seek justice in court.
“One year later in 1991 Senior Superintendent of police (SSP) Bashir Ahmad Dar told me to file a petition against the arrest of my son. Later in 1992 there was an enquiry by the state high court. Since 1997 the file is lying in appeal with the home ministry,” she says.
Parveena says she was offered Rs 10 lakh and a job by the army but she refused. “I can’t sell my child. I want my son back,” she remarks emphatically. Today her anguish as a mother is multiplied so that she is a voice for all those women whose sons, husbands or fathers never returned home after being picked up by government forces. APDP is now going through the survey of those missing. “The survey in itself is very difficult task to do as most of the victims not have been registered so far because of unawareness,” says Zahoor Ahmad, coordinator of APDP.
He further added that the families of the victims don’t find any need to register cases in the concerned police stations.Another remarkable woman who has bravely shouldered responsibility after her father went missing is 30-year-old Areeba (name changed) who lives on the outskirts of Srinagar city. She was only 12-year-old in 1993 when her father went missing.She recalls that day, “It was October 17 when my father left for prayers and didn’t return. We searched everywhere but could not locate him. In 2008 my mother died during the 2008 Amaranth land row agitation. She was suffering from cancer.”
Areeba, who currently runs a boutique in the old city, sacrificed her studies for her brother and sister. “I quit my own studies some 10 years ago and started working in a boutique so that my three sisters and one brother could continue their education,” she remarks. The only dream Areeba has to see her brother and younger sister as doctors, “In my dreams I always see my brother and sister wearing white apron with a machine (stethoscope) on their necks.”
There are hundreds of women old and young who harbor dreams. Dreams of their dear ones returning someday. But with a culture of impunity that government forces operate with, it seems highly unlikely they will ever know what happened to those who were forced to disappear.