By Bisma Malik
On the tenth day of every month of every year for last nearly two decades, a recreational local park of in the heart of the city turns into a mourning ground.
Wailing mothers gather here in a desperate wait of their sons, who were forcibly disappeared by the Indian forces during the now 23-year-old conflict that has raked the region.
Some of women hold fading photographs of their family members who vanished long ago, some wear bandannas with one liner printed on them and other retell their stories to journalists.
“What do I want? One meeting (with her husband) if he is alive,” Zara, a member of Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) and a ‘half-widow’ said.
Half-widow is a unique term coined to define those women whose husbands were forced into disappearance and no one knows whether they are alive or dead.
The waiting wives of these disappeared men are called ‘half widows’. “If he’s dead, tell me where his body is. Tell me where he has been buried,” Zara, who looks older than being in her forties, said.
“When I go to the police or the army, the officers leer at me, like I am available… I have to remind them that I am there about my missing husband! It’s been eight years,” she said.
There are other who wait for their sons and fight every day to know whether their sons survived the two decades since they were picked up by Indian forces — or whether they are dead.
Parveena Ahangar has waged a lifetime battle to demand the whereabouts of her son, Javed Ahmad, who was picked up by Indian paramilitary group in 1990.
She is the tragic leader of this tragic group.
“It is not a mourning anymore now,” she said. “It is more like displaying years of courage, struggle and unity which the family of APDP has put up with for all these years. Nothing could prevent us from the lookout for our sons which formed the very basis of APDP.”
Parveena’s strong words echoes all over the park and probably even strikes the ears of Indian police and plain clothed intelligence officers — patrolling the park and keeping an eye on the gathering of mothers and half-widows.
Noted Human rights activist of the valley, Khurram Parvez, who is the Programme coordinator of APDP-Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) describes his association with the organization since 2006 as a very purposeful and successful journey. “The documentation of the missing persons in various districts of the valley was made possible with the active cooperation from the male and female members of the families of missing persons. Their roles have been pivotal in making the voices of Kashmir heard all across the globe,” he says.
The search started with kins of disappeared persons knocking at every leader’s office, grilling the Policemen, exploring the hospitals. The members of APDP have not only remained steadfast in seeking the whereabouts of their sons or husbands, but they instilled this hope among many mothers of Kashmir who have set out for this journey.
Khurram says that it has been a tough ride for the female members of the family though, while coping with the loss of dear ones which is why their participation in debates, protests has always been an emotional one.
With too little help from the state and international bodies, the families of missing people in Kashmir were left with no other choice than embarking on this journey which promises them little of reaching their destination.
Despite regular state denials that have come when Khurram’s APDP stated the results of surveys they conducted, he says that the morale never died down among APDP members.
“Rather we were more hell bent on organizing more protests and conduct surveys. Though, there has not been a single case where any of the families have met their missing relative alive, but they are not holding back. The reality does bite, but it keeps us going,” Khurram believes.
While as Ahanger says that none of the APDP members have been able to locate their missing relatives so far. “Our faces have become synonymous with grief, missing stories, police manhandling. But be it. We will fight till our last breath,” Ahanger emphasizes.
APDP puts the number of missing persons in Kashmir as 10,000 though the state government has refused to acknowledge any of these statistics. The only official evidence in the disappearance cases of the valley has come from State Human Rights Commission in 2011 which in its survey found 2,156 unidentified bodied buried in 38 graves of four north Kashmir districts and called for a thorough DNA sampling of the remains which could be matched with the next of the kin. APDP also filed a rejoinder with the SHRC on its investigative report about presence of at least 2717 unknown graves at 90 sites in Poonch and another 1127 unmarked graves at 118 sites in Rajouri.
“Any news about my son is good news. I had lost all hopes of seeing him alive. So I was looking for his grave. I have met countless such people who do the burial process and have shown my son’s picture, just in case they might have buried him somewhere. I just want to weep there at his grave, if I could not weep while seeing him alive. If the government has finally found out those there are mass graves in Kashmir, they can take us there. Even if our sons are dead, make us meet them,” a wailing Ghulam Muhammad Wani from Kupwara, whose son went missing in Srinagar, narrates.
While Ghulam Muhammad’s search might end at a grave, there is a mother like Mugli who died while searching for her son Nazir Ahmad Trali.
Nazir Ahmad Trali, a teacher who disappeared in 1990s from Haba Kadal area of Srinagar had only Mugli, his mother he could rely on. After Nazir’s disappearance, Mugli resolved to find her son and was one of the oldest members of APDP and a formidable representative of this organization.
Mugli epitomized all that the thousands of mothers, fathers, and wives of missing persons had to tell.
“When she came for APDP gatherings, she would sit in a shaded corner of the park, holding a placard, a photograph of her son with moist eyes. The pain in her eyes perhaps symbolized the tragic tale of Kashmir conflict .Ultimately, the search ended with her death in 2009. We were taken aback. We lost one of the most credible voices, a philanthropist and a strong mother,” Shakeela, an APDP member asserts.
Parveena, Mugli, Zara, Ghulam Muhammad and counting… the stories are far more than one could imagine, bound together by pain, loss and denial.
As the incidents of ‘mysterious disappearances’ (put as ‘enforced disappearances’ by human rights organizations) increased in number after 90s and became a binding factor for many families all across the state, an organization like APDP was born.
Regardless of who protests where, the search process which includes organizing protests, lodging missing reports with Police, visiting jails, waiting for inquiries to begin and end has resulted in nothing at all for almost all the family members of disappeared persons. But then the Search is still on.
Despite facing an ever increasing hopelessness, Parveena’s words hint at the future of these wailing mothers. “We will keep on searching for them, for our sons.”