Ghosts of the valley

International day of victims of enforced disappearances

Credit : Kashmir Reader

On this International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, Indie Journal follows the relentless struggle of 28 years by a mother to find her son who went missing following his arrest by security forces in Kashmir.

Parveena Ahanger can never forget the night, when National Security Guard arrested her 16 year old son Javed Ahmed Ahanger who later went missing from their custody. It has now been 28 years since the unfortunate event but Ahanger continued her struggle to find her son. For her, the pursuit is not just for her son but for many from her extended family of APDP (Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons). In 1994, she founded APDP to support and mobilize family members of missing persons due to enforced disappearances to put pressure on Indian Government to investigate all the cases of enforced disappearances from the valley.

In 2009, when one after another mass graves were discovered in Bandipora, Baramulla, Kupwara in Kashmir, Parveena was one of the few voices who rose against the state and went to Delhi to take part in protests against the authorities.

Ahanger in 2015 was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2015 and got many other awards over the years, recent being Norway's Rafto Prize 2017 for her extensive human rights campaigning. Ahanger who is fondly addressed as Jiji is a well-known human right activist who is a ray of hope in the lives of families of missing persons.

Journey of Disappointments

Ahanger still remembers the day of August 18, 1990, when they were sleeping at their home in Srinagar; security forces raided their house and arrested her son Javed. He had just finished schooling and decided to pursue commerce.and was all set to go to college. Allegedly in her neighborhood, there was a hidden militant named Javaid Ahmad Bhat. When NSG raided the area they found her son whose name was similar to the militant so they arrested him. Javed later went missing.

After the arrest of Javed, the unending struggle of Ahanger started. Next morning she filed an FIR to local police, where police assured her that they will soon find her son. After some days when police told her that they cannot help her, she began to protest in front of the police station. After the protest, she was told by the police that they had traced her son and he is in an army hospital (BB Cantonment Hospital) in Shrinagar. When she visited that hospital, officers showed her a boy who looked nothing like her son.

In 1991, Ahanger decided to file a complaint against army in the Jammu Kashmir High Court and demanded details of whereabouts of her son. The court set up an investigating commission, which concluded that the ‘army had taken her son - but now did not know where he was'. Disappointed, Ahanger later filed another petition with the court which was considered after five years and court finally sent the case to the Home Ministry in New Delhi for sanction. “I am still waiting for a response from the ministry”, says Ahanger when asked whether she got a reply from the ministry. That was the time when Ahanger says that she lost her faith in justice and adds, "Sab Jhute nikle, court bhi zuta nikla (They all turned out liars, even the courts lied.).”


Parveena HangerImage credit : Al Jazeera

Sharing the Pain

When Ahanger was fighting with the state machinery for her missing son, she continued her search in various hospitals, army camps and met many politicians. She remembers those days of helplessness, takes a pause and says, “Kisine kuch nahi kiya (Nobody helped me).” This was the journey wherein she met many family members like her. “Kisika beta gayab tha to kisika pati gayab tha kisi kisika pura family gayab tha (Someone’s son was missing, someone’s husband was missing and there were some whose whole family was miising)”, says Ahanger.

It was the time Ahanger realized that she is not alone and many others are in the same condition. She then began to visit the interior parts of the Kashmir valley, where hundreds of people had been reported ‘missing’. She met family members and started to make a list of families with disappeared members. She finally succeeded in making a list of around fifty people whose family members had ‘disappeared’.

After mobilizing those families through a series of discussions at her house, in 1994 she formed the APDP and began to hold sit-in protests in front of the gates of the High Court of Jammu and Kashmir. After international accolades, Ahanger started getting funds from UN through which she provides monetary help to fellow members of APDP for their court battles, hospital and education expenditures.

Ahanger, when asked about the repression by state says, “Pehle pehle un logone hume pareshan kiya lekin humari ladai sacchi hai use koi rok nahi sakta to ab vo log kuch nahi karte (Earlier, we had to face repression by the state but later it stopped because our struggle is based on truth)”

Scores missing

Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), The International Peoples’ Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Indian- administered Kashmir (IPTK). Link.

and the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons claim over 8,000 people have disappeared since 1989. While the state and central governments say around 4,000 are missing, and most of whom, they allege crossed over to Pakistan-Administered Kashmir. Link. 

In January 2017, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti told the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly that 4,008 ‘missing persons’ from the state were in Pakistan-Administered Kashmir for arms training. Link

While fondly describing Javed as a perfect son who took care of her, loved her and who like any other Indian teenager loved to play cricket, Ahnager says, “Roz yad aati hai uski, bada pyara baccha tha, mera bohut khayal rakhta tha, padosiyose dosti rakhta tha acchese padhai bhi karta tha.

Ahanger says that even after the struggle of 28 years APDP have not achieved much success in getting back any missing person or bringing justice to their families. When asked what keeps her going even if there is no hope, Ahanger, within a second, replies, “Mere bête ki yad” and adds “Mere Bete ki yad muze chalne ka jajzba deti hai, mera dard hi mera jazba hai (Memories of my missing son keeps me going and my pain is my passion which keeps me going.)”