Srinagar, Sept 18: It’s been an arduous 27 years during which Parveena Ahangar has struggled to find out what happened to 17-year-old son who disappeared one fine night, never to return.
That night, Parveena had a nightmare. “In dream I was bitten by a dog. Wounded and in pain, there was no blood. I woke up and wondered what it could possibly mean,” she recalls.
At that time she was unaware that an existent nightmare had already stuck her; one that is haunting her for the past 27 years. “When I woke up in morning, I was informed that paramilitary CRPF has picked up my son.”
Parveena lived with her family in Batmaloo, Srinagar. Her son, Javed, was 17-years-old and had just passed his matriculation. At that night he was at cousin’s house in Srinagar.
Late that night, his relatives say, paramilitary forces came looking for a militant who also happened to be called Javed. Parveena’s son disappeared that night.
“I carried Javed in my womb for nine months, gave birth to him, brought him up to be a young man,” Parveena says, “And then, at age 17, he simply vanished.”
Despite being illiterate, she travelled to various parts of Kashmir and India in search of her disappeared son.
“I am not sure whether my son is dead or alive. But, I have not lost my hope,” says Parveena who is now a hope for several others like her.
She fought a lonely battle for four years, trying to get any information about her son — whether he was still alive, his whereabouts and whether he had been charged with a crime — but to no avail. Her relatives and friends advised her to give up the fight. “They meant well,” she says. But Parveena was not ready to give up on her son. “I told my husband to continue working to feed the family, as I devoted all my energies in looking for Javed.” Her husband Ghulam Nabi Ahangar, 65, owned an automobile workshop and sold spare parts. He has since been afflicted with severe illness and is now unable to work.
“Javaid committed no crime, they just took him,” she continued. “Many others have also been taken and the families have no idea what happened to their loved ones.”
In 1994, realizing that there were thousands of young men in Kashmir who had similarly disappeared, Parveena founded the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) to help families look for their loved ones and to find support among others who shared her predicament.
Starting with the parents of about 100 disappeared boys and men, the APDP today has 1,500 members, mostly mothers, desperate for news of their sons. “Sadly, not a single disappeared person has so far been found, declared dead or otherwise accounted for,” says Parveena.
APDP is conducting surveys in different parts of Kashmir to gauge the extent of the problem of disappearances. Based on preliminary results, they estimate at least 10,000 people — mostly young men — have disappeared — picked up by the paramilitary forces and never heard from, or heard of, again. The state government puts that number at 4,000.
“I will fight as long as I am alive,” she says. She suffers police beatings during demonstrations along with other mothers and wives of the disappeared, ignores attempts to politicize her struggle and refuses compensation, which she says is designed to shut her up. She has been offered money and employment to end her struggle; She has refused both. “I don’t need a job, I don’t need money, I need my son — nothing else,” Parveena says.
Parveena said that she approached the court of law: “I had to face further misery and hardships.” Justice seemed a distant dream and all those aspirations and hope collapsed.
Former minister of state for home Abdul Rehman Veeri in 2003 had said some of the disappeared did cross over to Pakistan.
On 25 March 2003, former law minister Muzaffar Hussain Baig informed the state Assembly that since December 1992, about 3,744 persons were reported missing.
Parveena, however, puts the number at anything between 8,000 to 10,000 persons. And she hopes to attract international attention on the issue.
While in the UK, she also met British parliamentarians. She requested them to help in tracing these disappeared persons and also urge the Indian government to allow APDP to construct a memorial in Srinagar.
Parveena, who represents APDP in the Philippines-based Asian Federation against Involuntary Disappearances, has also been demanding an independent commission to probe the disappearances in the Valley.
So far, only Chief Minister Omar Abdullah repeatedly called for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on the lines of a similar agency in South Africa to probe all the alleged human rights violations in the state.
Events to mark the Day of Disappeared were also held in JNU New Delhi, and TISS Mumbai, where Kashmiri students and activists spoke on the phenomenon of disappearances in Kashmir, Parveena said.
Parveena said she has travelled to various foreign places like London, Geneva and Cambodia to seek whereabouts of disappeared persons and end to enforced disappearances in Kashmir. (GNS)