Monday, 21 May, 2007

The Search Goes On

Pain of separation turn Hajra Bhanu restless, increase in its intensity worsens her condition to the extent that she wishes to dig a graveyard for herself, which she believes would relieve her of her “subtle but torturous” pains and a perplexed situation.

Finding herself “ruined”, Hajra, in her mid seventies, recollects the “good old” days when her four sons used to live happily with her. Narrating her woeful tale in nutshell, she said, “Akye waqt asas bae chouran shuraen hinz moej, wane chhum ni kahaen”, (there was a time when I was mother of four sons but today I yearn for a support).

Aged Hajra and her husband live alone in Wanigam village of Bandipora district in Kashmir. Left to fend on their own, the couple hardly finds any one to share their agonies and trauma. “There is no one with whom we could share our pains and sufferings. We had two daughters who are married now and they seldom visit us. At times, our agonies turn unbearable and we wish to end our lives. I wish to dig a graveyard for myself at least that would relieve me from this perplexed situation,” lamented Hajra.

One of the Hajra’s sons is missing for the last 11 years and other three have been killed. Living a hard and miserable life, her agonies have adversely affected her. She finds no words to explain her situation. Tears gushing through her eyes narrate the untold part. Hajra’s husband is ailing and too weak to earn. In their old age they are left to support each other.

Despite all this Hajra mustered courage and filed a case in State Human Rights Commission (SHRC). However, she is not satisfied with the pace of work there and is doubtful in getting a verdict in her favour from the commission. “For the last three years I have been going to State Human Rights Commission to seek justice but till date my efforts have borne no fruits. There is no one except Almighty who might come to our rescue, rest is all turning tail”, feebly commented

Disappearance of her son has added to the mental agonies of Taja Bano again from the same village. Taja fails to understand as how could an “illiterate and helpless” mother (as in almost every case of disappearance) trace her son in this land of conflict where every moment of life adds to their bruises. “Where to look for him since the whole matter seems so confusing and complicated. Exhumations in the Ganderbal fake encounter cases have worried us more with the apprehensions hogging our minds that our dear ones might have faced the same fate,” narrated Taja.

Missing her “disappeared” son badly she feels as if her life has come to a sudden halt. Failing to comply with this trauma her husband had a nervous breakdown. Consequently, she was left to feed and support her family that she at times finds cumbersome. Posing a volley of queries she asked, “What is the alternative left for mothers in such grave situations? Who would take the trouble of providing us with the necessities of life? We are all a helpless, hapless and ignored
lot who are left to fend for themselves,” she quipped leaving rest to be conveyed by her abrupt silence.

Misra Bhanu went into depressive fits and finally lost her life. Obsessed to trace the whereabouts of her son, Shabir Ahmad, who went missing since 22 January 2001 Misra failed to bear the separation and bid farewell to the world. Residing at Boatman Colony-Bemina, Srinagar Ghulam Nabi, husband of Misra said that he first lost his son (whose whereabouts he is still tracing. He does not even know whether he is dead or alive) and then his wife.

Frustrated Ghulam Nabi, a fruit vendor by profession has no other source to sustain his family that includes his daughter-in-law and two grandsons. “Now they are my responsibility but how long can I support them. Where will my daughter-in-law go? She has no other source to support her life. Only Allah knows what will happen to her and her siblings. I have reached that stage of life where I myself need a support,” he argued.

Though his case too lies with the State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) and the High Court but that is not where his struggle ends. So far, he has received no assistance in the form of cash. He added that he has to shoulder the responsibility of the family till he reaches the end of his life.

Getting emotional about his young daughter-in-law and grandsons, Ghulam Nabi pleaded for some sort of assistance for these children keeping into consideration his own limitations, the age factor in particular. “They do not have a secure future. What will they do when I will be no more, this thought sends shivers down my spine and haunts me all along but what to do as I am absolutely helpless,” he asked.

In a bid to catch a glimpse of her son, Fazi Begum (75), makes it all the way to the Saddar Court,
Srinagar irrespective of time, money involved and the type of weather. Being aware of the fact that her son would be brought to the court for hearing, she left no stone unturned to make it to that place.

Rehti Jan, in her late sixties, often walks down the riverside to share her tears with the gushing stream flowing by. She lost her son to the ongoing insurgency in the state. Her son was the lone bread earner of the family and they lived a happy life. Immediately after his death their family went in the grip of miseries and pains. “Life has turned miserable for us and we are living from hand to mouth,” exclaimed Rehti.

Mukhta Bano, a middle-aged woman, remembers her last meeting with her son. Down the memory lane, she recollects the memories of the day when she was waiting for her son only to find that the wait would turn endless. Her eyes always look for that “familiar” face in the crowd. “All my efforts fail to trace him. Now it seems an endless search still I will never give up,” reiterated Mukhta.

Another middle-aged woman, Zainab Begum still waits for her son who is believed to be dead. “I have not seen his dead body or for that mater his grave. How can I believe that he is no more? Show me either his dead body or grave only then I will believe your words. Till then I would continue my struggle the way I can,” insisted the mother.

Sara Begum, a young mother, finds solace the moment she happens to pass by the graveyard of her son. “He is safe here. At least, I know he is lying here and nobody can harm him,” she uttered.

To trace the whereabouts of her only son, Fatima Bi, an elderly woman wishes to get tossed from post to pillar hoping that someday she might locate her son or get any information pertaining to him. “Only then I can die in peace,” she stated.

The wait, however, seems unending for Zoona Akthar, a widow and mother of five children, who have put in all her energy, efforts and other resources to find out her son missing for years together now.

Age seems not to be a barrier for Mala Jan (70), who moves from jail to jail to look for her son and to know about his well-being. “Back home I have to look after his family as well as there is no other source of income. I try to eke out a small living by doing petty jobs,” she said.

“Stop disappearances and stop crimes against humanity,” plead the family members of the disappeared persons whenever they assemble and carry out silent protest demonstration in Srinagar. “Hamaray bachoun ko azad karo, La pata bachoun ko riha karo” (release our missing children, set them free and provide us their whereabouts), are the slogans that they usually raise. Finally, tears and shrieks give vent to their feelings.

The Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) is an organization of families of victims of enforced disappearances in the state of Jammu and Kashmir and has been campaigning against phenomenon of enforced or involuntary disappearances since its formation in 1994.

Pertinent to mention, at the very beginning of this year the Association got split into two factions for the reasons best known to them. One faction continues to be the sister organization of the J&K Coalition of Civil Society (J&KCCS) and the other being headed by Parveena Ahangar (earlier President of APDP), independently.

Last year, on the occasion of the International Day of the Disappeared (August 30), APDP came out with a paper that contained contradictory statements of the ministers as well as chief ministers issued from time to time about the number of the persons disappeared in the state since 1989.

The document while quoting the statement made by Khalid Najeeb Suharwardy, Minister of State (MOS) for Home during the National Conference rule on July 18, 2002 said that 3,184 persons disappeared from 1989 to July 2002. Then the document while quoting the former chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed said that 3744 persons were missing during the year 2000, 2001 and
2002. The statement that was made in the Legislative Assembly at Jammu on February 25, 2003 said that 1,553 persons disappeared in 2000; 1,586 in 2001 and 605 in 2002. On March 25, 2003 former Law & Parliamentary affairs minister Muzaffar Hussain Beigh had said that out of 3,744 persons missing during the period 2000-2002, 135 have been declared dead up to June 2002.

The document revealed a U-turn approach taken by the former Chief Minister, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed who during a joint press conference with former Prime Minister of India, Atal Bihari Vajpayee at Srinagar airport, in April 2003, declared that only 60 persons have disappeared since the inception of militancy in the state. Later, the document said that Mufti while giving the statement on June 11, 2003 said that 3,744 persons are reported missing from 1990 till 31st December 2002. Ten days later, the then Minister of State (MOS) Home, Abdul Rehman Veeri said that 3,931 persons have disappeared from 1989 to June 2003.

The chairman of National Panthers Party (NPP) Prof. Bhim Singh on October 7, 2004 said that 4000 disappeared persons are lodged in Jammu jails. The document further quoted various statements made by the chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad and the former deputy Chief Minister Muzaffar Hussain Beigh about the custodial disappearances that have taken place from time to time.

The document while quoting Azad, during the question hour of the state legislature during February-March 2006 session at Jammu said that 693 disappearance cases have been registered, so far. In the same session he made a statement that four cases of custodial disappearances were recorded between 1-1-2004 and 15-2-2006.

The document while quoting the then deputy Chief Minister on August 1, 2006 said that there were 60 cases of disappearances during the National Conference (NC) rule. Later the document while quoting the statement of Azad made in the legislative council said that that there were 12 cases of custodial disappearances from 2003 to July 28, 2006. The document added that the Chief Minister on the floor of the house during the same session said that there have been 33 custodial disappearances during 1990-1996 in the state. He added that 60 cases of custodial disappearances have come to the forefront during the period 1995-2002, the document added.

The chief minister while making a mention in the state legislature said that 15 custodial disappearances have taken place during 2003-2005 and that a single case of custodial disappearance has occurred from November 2, 2005 to August 5, 2006, as per the document. It added that Azad in the house said that during the Governor’s rule and NC regime 33 and 60 cases of the custodial disappearances were reported respectively.

The APDP believed that in Jammu and Kashmir the successive governments have not even acknowledged the phenomenon of enforced disappearances and it is imperative that the cases are investigated. The question of identifying the perpetrators and bringing them to justice, according to the Association, seems to be a remote possibility.

Since 1989, APDP records that 8000 to 10,000 people have been subjected to enforced disappearances during different regimes. According to them, 122 people were subjected to enforced disappearance from November 2, 2002 to November 2, 2005. The Congress government led by Ghulam Nabi Azad has been no different and more than 42 cases of enforced disappearances have been reported from November 2, 2005 to this date revealed the Association.

Parveena Ahangar, former president, Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) and currently heading one of the APDP factions reiterates to continue the struggle, till the last breath.

“We won’t rest till we know the truth,” she stressed. She was of the opinion that even courts have failed them. “Courts have failed to provide us the justice. We have been asking about the setting up of a Commission under the Commission of Inquiries Act with a mandate to probe into all the disappearances taken place since the insurgency, here. But that did not happen. We asked them to stop such violations. Contrary to that, cases of disappearances keep pouring in,” she maintained. The Association, according to her, is persistently campaigning against phenomenon of enforced or involuntary disappearances since its formation in 1994.

She however, reiterated that they do not want relief, job or compensation making it clear that they simply want their children back. “What more can a mother’s heart urge for and what else would children demand. No one can gauge the pains and sufferings of a widow,” she said. She went to the extent of saying that if they are sincerely told that their “missing” relatives are no more, they are ready to take that as well. “At least, we will stop looking for them and stop spending everything we have in trying to trace them. But, it appears as if no one is moved by the pains we are undergoing,” she advocated.

Either show us their dead bodies or let the international agencies intervene, she maintained. “How long shall we continue like this?” Parveena asked. “I can understand the pains of a mother, a sister or a wife who has lost her son, brother or husband. I have gone through all this and I am fighting for this for the last so many years,” she reinforced. Parveena’s son is missing since the last 16 years.

Lashing out on the government, a relative of a disappeared youth asked the government to show them the dead bodies of their dear ones. “You talk about resolving Kashmir issue, what about our issues. Return us our children”, he asked. Questioning further, he said which provision in the Constitution authorizes the government to take away their children not to be returned. “Tell them their crime, punish them, but at least show them to us. This is a grave injustice done to us,” he submitted.

Pervez Imroz patron J&K Coalition of Civil Society (CCS) stated that this situation is confronted by 3, 00,000 family members. He added that the government has been too insensitive to this issue. “We are planning for the international pressure because we feel only that works. We want to expose this indifference to the whole world. More shocking is the indifferent attitude of the civil society groups especially the women activists (elitist women group) who are observing silence over this grave issue,” Imroz explained.

”Since 12 years of the formation of APDP we have been fighting against disappearances in the state. We want the perpetrators to be brought to book,” he stressed. “Disappearance is a crime against humanity. Government is answerable for the disappearances,” emphasized Pervez Imroz.

Parveena Ahangar too demanded to make government answerable for the disappearances. “One hundred sixty four people have disappeared during Mufti’s government, 44 during Azad’s regime so far and about 35,000 during Farooq Abdullah’s time. How come Mufti led a delegation to United Nations General Assembly? Was there no one to question him about the disappearances during his regime,” Parveena asked.

Other members of the Association added, “Day in and day out we hear that both India and Pakistan want to solve the Kashmir issue, but there is no one who would stand up and mention about the disappearance of our kids. We are not against peace but at the same time we want that the whereabouts of our wards are known to us. If they are no more in this world then hand over
the bodies to us so that our mental agony comes to an end”.

Afsana Rashid

(Charkha Features)

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