Kashmir women protest, demanding information and responsibility for missing husbands and children, who were disappeared by rebels or by the Indian security forces and presumably killed
SHAHANA BUTT, PRODUCER: Asia’s nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan, since their independence from British rule in 1947, have always remained at dispute over issues related to a territory called Kashmir. The two traditional neighboring rivals have fought each other thrice, and two out of the three wars over the disputed Kashmir. Both claim the entire territory but rule it in parts. And it remains at the heart of their enmity.
An armed revolt against the Indian rule that started in 1989 in Kashmir has claimed over 60,000 lives and left almost no aspect of life in the area untouched. The armed groups fighting Indian rule in Kashmir are perceived to be backed by Pakistan.
Each side claims itself to be right. India insists succession of Kashmir to India as final and complete, and hence Kashmir is an integral part of India, key to highlighting the secular nature of Hindu-majority Asian nation, and that all would be well in Kashmir if Pakistan stops crossborder terrorism. On the other hand, Pakistan insists Kashmir is a disputed territory, unresolved, and it is merely providing moral and diplomatic support for an indigenous freedom struggle in Kashmir.
Presently, the human rights issues top the concern list for the people living here. Among the worst sufferers of human rights violations in Kashmir are those whose husbands and sons have gone missing after their arrests by security forces. Each month, hundreds of women, young and old, gather in the sprawling fields of the Himalayan territory controlled by India. These women seek information about their loved ones that went missing years ago now, after they were taken away by government forces during the past two decades of bloody turmoil in the region, which claimed lives of tens of thousands of people, mostly civilians.
Parveena Ahanger is a founder of the Association of Parents of Disappeared People, supported by lawyers and human rights activists in Kashmir. APDP is a union of the relatives of victims of enforced disappearance in Jammu and Kashmir.
Back in early 90’s Parveena’s son Javaid Ahangar was abducted by Indian security forces and was never heard from again. Today, 22 years have passed, but she never fails to attend this solidarity meeting on the 10th day of each month.
PARVEENA AHANGER, FOUNDER, ASSOC. OF PARENTS OF DISAPPEARED PEOPLE (VOICEOVER TRANSL.): It’s not a joke. People do not understand the pain we are going through. But our efforts will make sure none else in this region gets missing. The government tried its best to offer us perks, but money can’t buy us our beloved sons. Our children have been taken by Indian security forces, and we will continue to ask India where our children are. If they have killed them, we at least need to know where they have buried them. As long as they don’t give us proofs of their death, how will we accept they are dead?
BUTT: Parveena says a large number of disappearance cases remain undocumented for many reasons, including fear of reprisal by the security forces. Also, no reparations or recourse are offered for these disappearances.
AHANGER: They have been using all sorts of pressure tactics to shut our mouths, but we haven’t given up so far. We know the culprits. Why doesn’t the government book them and punish them? My case is languishing in the Indian Home Ministry since 1997, and it has a clear mention of culprit. India is giving its forces a free hand in Kashmir. But as long as I live, I will make sure to knock each door of justice to seeking our children.
BUTT: Rights groups have estimated that there are more than 8,000 men that have disappeared in Kashmir after being taken away by state authorities. But the government has always denied the accusations, saying these men might have crossed over to Pakistan for arms trainings.
KHURRAM PARVAIZ, RIGHTS ACTIVIST: These disappearances are of four kinds of disappearances in Jammu and Kashmir. One of those–and that’s the most number of people. These are those people who have been arrested by the Armed Forces, the Indian Armed Forces. And after their arrests, their arrests were denied and their whereabouts have not been ascertained. They have perhaps disappeared in the custody. So there are clear-cut evidences against Armed Forces in these cases. Then there are other number of people who disappeared mysteriously, where we don’t know–they left in the morning–where we don’t know what happened to them. Situation was a conflict situation, situation was bad here. We don’t know what happened to them.
Then we have a third kind of disappearance here, where militants were involved in disappearing people for political reasons or for being informers.
And then there is a fourth kind of disappearance, where militants themselves have disappeared while crossing over to the Pakistani-administered Kashmir or coming back to Jammu and Kashmir after getting the arms training. So they were either arrested or killed in encounters, sometimes fake encounters, sometimes legitimate encounters. But their bodies were not handed over to their families. Their families do not know whether they have died or whether they’re alive.
BUTT: Kashmir, dotted with security camps, is perhaps today the most militarized zone in the world. Besides thousands of troops who are guarding a military control line that divides Kashmir between South Asian neighbors, armed personnels are deployed in streets, towns, villages, and hamlets surrounded by lofty snowy Himalayan peaks.
International rights groups have accused Indian troops of grave human rights violations in Indian-administered Kashmir and have asked India for investigations. However, little has been done by India in this direction so far.
AHANGER: We are demanding an independent commission. If India thinks it’s not responsible for the crimes, why isn’t it allowing investigations? Let’s have free trial. All the major right groups have been asking India for investigations why it isn’t giving access to them. This is clear evidence that India is responsible for all sorts of human rights violations. We had hopes international community might intervene, but to maintain its economic ties with India, human lives have no value.
BUTT: The turmoil of past two decades in this region gave birth to a new group in a society commonly known as “half-widows”. These are the women whose husbands have disappeared over a period of time, and because of the Islamic law, these women couldn’t remarry, thus are facing the burden of being a single parent.
PARVAIZ: The story of half-widows is a story of honor, the story of resilience. And in Jammu and Kashmir, though so far our estimates are there are 1,500 women, but you would see most of these women are suffering in a very bad way, and there are very few organizations who are focused in supporting them, because normally you have to prove yourself to be a widow to receive support from a humanitarian organization. Unfortunately, the children of these half-widows, they were the worst affected because of the psychological trauma they had to face, and also their education suffered.
BUTT: Once such woman we met who is taking care of her three sons for the past ten years now. Tahira’s husband was a contractor who once left home for some work and never returned.
TAHIRA BANU, WIFE OF DISAPPEARED: It’s not easy to be a single parent. I have faced the worst since he is not there. Two of my sons are in the orphanage, and the youngest lives with me. Earlier, people used to give me charity, but now I work here in this beauty clinic to make my living. I could not get support of my in-laws, because my husband married me without their consent.
And I know I’m not the only struggling. There are hundreds of women like me. We are just telling the government to help us locate our missing men. But they are not paying any attention to our demands. This clearly hints that government has some stakes in their disappearances.
BUTT: Indian authorities deny any systematic rights violations and say they investigate all the cases and punish those found guilty.
The United Nations Commission on Human Rights established the working group in 1980 to assist families in determining the fate and whereabouts of disappeared relatives. India signed the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance in February 2007; however, it failed to ratify the convention.
Observers say such seething protest against human rights violations will endanger the world peace and there can be no lasting political settlement in Kashmir unless human rights abuses which have fueled the insurgency are addressed.
For The Real News Network, this is Shahana Butt in Indian administered Kashmir.
DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.