From an ordinary woman striving to trace her son picked up by troops, Parveena Ahanger turned into champion of civil rights for all such victims. Shazia Khan narrates the story of the face that has come to resemble resistance.
Nineteen years of no trace is enough to give up hopes of someone’s existence. The years have had an impact on Parveena Ahanger too, whose 17-year-old son was picked by troops in 1990, and is missing since. Hopes of her son being alive have faded significantly, but her fight to locate his whereabouts has not.
And then she is no longer fighting for the whereabouts of her son alone.
“It is the fight for the whereabouts of all the disappeared in Kashmir,”says Ahanger, the founding chair of Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons that estimates the number of disappeared at around 10,000.
Their two decade fight has not provided them the traces of their kin, but as she says authorities have been “forced to put reins on the malpractice”.
“Victim should not mean exclusion and immobility, it means the gathered courage to revolt against injustices, to demand one who is responsible for the crime should be booked,” says Parveena.
Her fight began in 1990, when her son Javaid Ahanger was picked up from a relative’s house along with a cousin.
Witnesses told Parveena the boys were taken for an identification parade but they were not nailed by the informer. Though his cousin was released, Javaid was whisked into an army vehicle.
Next day Parveena filed an FIR at a local police station. “My son was innocent. He had never indulged in any militant activity. I thought army would release him soon but they haven’t released him till date,” says Parveena.
For about a year, Parveena approached several police stations, many interrogation centres and army camps in different areas of Valley but couldn’t trace him. “I even tried to seek help from some politicians, top brass officers and other bureaucrats,” says Parveena.
Finally she filed a writ petition in the court. It took two years for the court to direct a police investigation. “Police submitted an investigation report in which three high ranked army officers – Captain Katoch, Captain Danoj and Major Gupta were found guilty,” says Parveena.
“Though the court summoned all three officers but they didn’t appear before the judge, instead another army officer named Col Joshi, who appeared on their behalf, tried to shove the case by offering me 10 lakh rupees. I declined the offer,” discloses Parveena.
In spite of the police investigation that nailed army officers, there was no headway.
“Investigation was completed, culprits were identified but they were not booked. I was told that army men can not be booked under any civil court until the case has not been sanctioned (for prosecution) by home ministry and defence ministry,” says Parveena.
Parveena tried to acquire the required permission.
“For about four years I tried, but authorities didn’t give sanction to prosecute them. My search to locate my son has not ended,” adds Parveena.
Undeterred, Parveena continued her battle against a hostile system.
“I was not alone in my quest. In early 90’s enforced disappearances were at peak. Hundreds of people were struggling hard to locate their dear ones who were subjected to disappearance.”
However, there was no help available. The relatives would strive for the whereabouts of their kin individually.
In 1994, with the help of Parvaiz Imroz, Parveena brought the kin of disappeared under one umbrella and founded the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP).
Individual struggles turned into a collective fight. The group organised protests, peaceful marches and hunger strikes highlighting the plight of the families with a disappeared member.
Currently split into two, the APDP has documented thousands of disappearances since 1989.
Parveena played a key role all along. Despite being unlettered, she visited countries like Switzerland, Philippians, Thailand and Indonesia to highlight the problem. Parveena says, “To highlight the disappearances issue, a campaign at local, national, international level is needed. Though the state didn’t stop the disappearance, it helped to reduce the crime at large.”
While their efforts put curbs on the problem, she is not content with government claims.
“Government is failing to get us justice so far. Now we are demanding an ‘Independent Commission’ to probe into all disappearance cases of Kashmir.”
Most of the disappeared’s kin live in abject poverty. Although APDP helps some of them get ex gratia relief sanctioned from State Human Rights Commission, Parveena says, the relief can not compensate the loss of life.
“We didn’t fight to sell our sons. We will continue till we get to know the truth about our kin”.