Relatives Of Disappeared Persons Hold Rally In Srinagar
30 August 2000
Srinagar: “Where is my father?” asks the placard three-year old Rumi was carrying at a rally of the families of disappeared persons held on Wednesday. Probably, nobody has an answer to offer to the little girl who was born four months after her father, Mushtaq Ahmed Khan, was picked up from his house at Batamallo, a Srinagar suburb, at 2 am on April 14, 1997 for questioning by the Alfa company of 20 Grenadiers. His fate is not known. The authorities deny he was ever arrested. Mushtaq’s wife Rafiqa has left no stone upturned to trace him. She has to look after her four children and her eldest child Aamir is just seven years old. Somehow, Rafiqa managed to get Aamir enrolled at a private school where every child asks him same question: “Was your father a mujahid. Was he killed by fauj?” He does not know how to answer such queries. “He is too young to understand these things,” says his mother, who insists that her husband was not a militant. Next to Rafiqa and her children is 70-year-old Khazar Muhammad Butt, a retired revenue official from Haigam village, near Sopore. He says that after his son, Abdus Samad Butt, a carpet-weaver, was whisked away by troops on October 29, 1994, he met him twice at an Army camp near Pattan. The third meeting between the father and son was to take place on November 11, 1994. But when Khazar arrived at the camp he was informed that Samad had been freed and handed-over to the concerned station house officer against proper receipt two days ago to be restored to his family. Since then, his father, wife and six children — four daughters and two sons — are struggling to know Samad’s fate. “If you have killed him, give me his body or, at least, identify his grave,” pleads Khazar. Everyone gathered at the rally held at a Srinagar hotel, coinciding with the International Day of Disappeared, had a story to tell. Parvez Imroz, a prominent Kashmiri lawyer and patron of the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons which organised the rally said as many as 2,000-2,500 people have gone missing after arrest by various law-enforcing agencies during the 11-year-old insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir. However, only 319 such cases could be documented, he said, adding that most of the families were reluctant to identify the agency involved and give other details for fear of reprisal. He said that the phenomenon of enforced disappearances emerged in Kashmir after 1989 with the outbreak of armed conflict. “The heavily deployed security forces during campaign against combatant Kashmiris has resorted to different forms of human rights violations like extra-judicial executions, custodial deaths, torture, rape, forced labour and disappearances,” he alleged. He said that disappearances took place during President’s Rule and have continued even after civilian rule was “imposed.” He charged: “As security forces suspect every Kashmiri so due to promiscuous arrests of the non-combatant Kashmiris and subsequent tortures has resulted in the disappearances.” The APDP, founded in 1994, is helping the families of the disappeared persons which are faced with multiple problems, the majority of the victims being mostly ignorant of their rights. Besides causing emotional distress, the disappearances have economical dimensions, he said. “Half of the presumably widows along with their children are with the passage of time deserted by their in-laws and subsequently become burden on their parents and this economical dependence affects the education and future of their wards,” he lamented. He said de-facto remedies are available but no support is at hand from the state. The government has not acknowledge the problem of disappearances itself; hence addressing it does not arise. Representations made before the district administrations have had very little impact and the state human rights commission has no mandate over the security forces and is only a recommendatory body, he complained. Nazir Ahmed Ronga, president of Kashmir High Court Bar Association, accused the government of being insensitive towards the issue. He regretted that although a large number of disappearance cases were ready to go to court, the Centre was not allowing prosecution of the accused. “So far, not a single case has been cleared for prosecution making us and the traumatised families handicap,” he said. A letter written to the APDP by Amnesty International also reflects alleged unkind behaviour by the government. “For many years Amnesty International has been concerned at the high level of human rights violations and abuses which consistently take place within the state and at the consistent failure of both the government of Jammu and Kashmir and the Union Government to ensure that the responsible for the perpetrators of human rights violations are brought to justice,” it says. It adds that despite both state and union authorities being obligated under international law to undertake independent and impartial investigations into all such abuses the whereabouts of the hundreds of people who “disappeared” have not been established. Mr Imroz alleged that the security agencies were using fear as a weapon to prevent victims’ families from pursuing the disappearance cases. The mother of one of these, also an active member of the APDP, Halima Begum, was along with her another son gunned down by unidentified intruders at her Srinagar house. “Today, main concern for us is the safety of our members,” he said, adding that he could not ask them to come out and expose themselves to danger. The association is, however, planning to “expose” the agencies involved in a disappearance to discourage further such violations. It also recommends appointment of a commission to be headed by a reputed high court or Supreme Court judge under the Commission of Inquiry Act to investigate all the disappearances which have taken place since 1989. It also wants repeal of the impunity laws like Section 6 of the Armed Forces Special Power Act “as these prevent the accountability from the perpetrators and are the major factor behind the phenomenon.” The association, he said, is approaching the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances to visit Kashmir as it has done in Sri Lanka. Ms Parveena Ahangar, president of the association, whose son went missing after his alleged arrest by the security forces, said they have decided to raise a monument in the memory of disappeared persons. “There are no graves of our dear ones around beside which we can sit and weep. We can do that at the memorial which we are going to erect somewhere,” she said.