Kashmir: Politics Of Disappearance

Kashmir: Politics Of Disappearance

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By Samreen Mushtaq (Reporting from Delhi)

On September 19, 2011, the third anniversary of the Batla House ‘Encounter’, Jamia Teachers’ Solidarity Association organised a program “Kashmir: Politics Of Disappearance” in the FTK Auditorium of Jamia Millia Islamia University, New Delhi. Program had two speakers and there was screening of a documentary also.


Parveena Ahangar
Chairperson Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP)

Sanjay Kak
Independent Film Maker

Screening of the film “Where Have You Hidden, My New Crescent Moon?” directed by Iffat Fatima.

Introduction (excerpts)

Jamia Teachers Solidarity Association (JTSA) has been organising such programs every year on the anniversary of Batla House ‘encounter’. This horrible encounter was carried out by the Special Cell of Delhi Police on September 19, 2008. Young boys, many of them students of Jamia Millia Islamia University, were picked up by the Special Cell and pronounced them as terrorists. This left the Jamia community shocked, aggrieved and fearful. There was an urgent need to reach out to this community; JTSA was thus formed under these circumstances.


Sanjay Kak’s Speech

Sanjay Kak (file photo). Photo: Tamim Baba

The APDP has been talking about the missing for 20 years but the aspect of unmarked graves has reached a point where stories are exploding on their own. In 2005, there was an earthquake in Kashmir. Perhaps it’s like a metaphor that Jab Tak Woh Zalzala Nahi Aaya, Tab Tak Woh Laashein Baahar Nahi Nikal ke Aayi (till that earthquake no one knew about those dead bodies). What happened in that earthquake was that for the first time, media, human rights organisations and some NGOs went to areas where traditionally there was no access. Because of the government was incapable of dealing with the crisis they had, suddenly they had no option and border areas are now civil society. Out of that ‘crack’ which the earthquake created, a few reports came out in April 2005 by Human Rights group ‘Facts Underground’. They spoke about the existence of 1000 unmarked graves in 18 villages of Baramulla, Boniyar and Uri.

‘Buried Evidence’, was the Second Report by IPTK (International People’s Tribunal on Human Rights in Kashmir) released in December 2009 that estimated 2373 unmarked graves present at 62 sites in the three districts of Baramulla, Bandipora and Kupwara. There is hardly any attention that has been paid to it in the way that the media will probably be reporting it for two days, there will never be any follow up stories and that’s it.

In April 2011, SHRC (State Human Rights Commission) did their own survey in the same three districts. They looked at 38 sites and came up with an estimate of 2730 unmarked graves. Later they clarified and said that 574 of them were identified. If we were able to quickly identify these 574 bodies then who are the other people? Where are all these graveyards and most importantly, who is responsible for this situation?

Sometime after the SHRC Report, I watched Omar Abdullah speaking to Barkha Dutt on Television saying that we aren’t sure that these are unidentified bodies; these are unmarked graves because in rural Kashmir, there’s no tradition of having tombstones. On the same show, Police chief S M Sahai said that majority of these people are foreign terrorists from Pakistan. So the Chief Minister and Police Chief in the same program are saying a different thing. But this isn’t a problem either for television anchors or for them because actually they don’t care, it doesn’t matter to them.

Mughli Maasa
Mugli, center, mother of a disappeared Kashmiri youth wails as others console her during a demonstration organized by the Association for Parents of Disappeared Persons on Mother's Day in Srinagar, India, Sunday, May 10, 2009. (AP Photo/Mukhtar Khan)

Even if people in all unmarked graves are militants, for arguments sake, the law of the land still doesn’t permit bodies to be taken and dropped into graveyards without identification. In the documents submitted subsequently in the last two weeks to SHRC, IPTK looked at 53 exhumations made by JK (Jammu and Kashmir) government in last few years. In the official list, 49 of them turned out to be local citizens, one militant and three unidentified.

Parveenaji will tell you that for twenty years, they’ve been asking about their dear ones. They have been told Wo Idhar Bhaag Gaye Hain, Woh Udhar Bhaag Gaye Hain (they ran away here and there) How are we to believe this?

Poonch has now come with quite credible information of 2717 unmarked graves in 90 graveyards and 1127 graves from 118 sites have been reported from Rajouri. I want you to think that there are districts like Doda, Ramban, Reasi, Shopian, Anantnag, Kulgam, Budgam, Ganderbal —none of these have been surveyed even when they’re all disturbed districts with AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act) still in place.

In 2004, no one was fully able to comprehend the scale of what is going on. What we have added up here is already looking like 8000, who knows how many there will be. Another significant thing that you hear from Kashmir, apart from cancellation of Harud Lit Fest, is CM (chief minister) Omar repeatedly talking about Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It is often misconstrued that it is a substitute for punishing perpetrators of HR (Human Rights) violation. They just want to build a road over the graveyards through it. And I think why SHRC is allowing numbers to be spoken of is because they are trying to suggest a closure.

Just when Parveena Ahanger started narrating the tale of her disappeared son with tears in her eyes, no one in the auditorium could hold back their tears.

Parveena Ahangar’s Speech

Parveena Ahangar
Parveena Ahangar (in black scarf) in an APDP sit-in at Lal Chowk, Srinagar. (file photo/GK)

I formed this association in 94 (1994) by going village after village to find families whose loved ones had disappeared. We have no data on the number of disappeared persons because we are not in a position to go village by village to collect data as we don’t have resources. If there are laws for civilians, are there no laws for security forces? It has been 21 years, we protest every month but to no avail. Mehbooba Mufti once came to us seeking votes and said APDP’s is really a big concern but later she refused to help us saying that she could do nothing because of India’s pressure. The security forces who had taken my son were even called to court but it has not helped. I have promised Allah that I will fight for this cause till I breathe my last.

One Omar Abdullah will go, another will come but no one understands our pain. Ask the agencies where our sons are? We have become strangers in our own place, we can’t move without showing I cards to the personnel.

I know I am not alone. You all are with me.

And with these words, the whole auditorium reverberated with the slogans of Hamari Maange Poori Karo (Fulfill our demands).

This was followed by a question-answer session wherein someone from the audience said that it was really disturbing to know the reality of things and the pain of mothers. But it’s strange to see that our nation that stood together with Anna against corruption isn’t doing anything to protest against the disappearances and unmarked graves in Kashmir.

This was followed by the screening of a documentary which featured the story of one Mughli Maasa whose son was also among those who had disappeared and she died in 2008 while waiting for her son to return.


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