Families of Kashmir’s Missing Thousands Demand Justice

By Amin Ahmad
150522-IN-graves-620 Taja Begum holds a photocopy of her missing son’s identity card outside her home in Brari Pora village, Kashmir, May 4, 2015.

Seventeen years ago Taja Begum lost two of her sons to violence connected to Kashmir’s long-running insurgency.

Now 65 and a widow, she is still seeking closure in the case of her third son, Ghulam Nabi Dar, who disappeared at around the time of his brothers’ murders in January 1998 – the insurgency’s peak– never to be seen again.

“I want to see Nabi once before I die,” Begum told BenarNews.

Some 8,000 young Kashmiri men have vanished during the insurgency. The remains of most of them are believed to be buried in thousands of unmarked graves scattered across Kashmir.

The Himalayan region is a disputed land between India and Pakistan, and both nations control a part of it. In the 1990s an armed resistance broke out against Indian rule. According to human rights organizations, the conflict has claimed more than 50,000 lives.

On the night of Jan. 26, 1998, a group of at least eight men in combat fatigues came to the family home in Brari Pora village – some 80km (50 miles) from Srinagar – and took away her sons Mohammad Amin Dar and Ghulam Nabi Dar, Begum said.

Several days later, police recovered Amin’s mutilated body from a river in a neighboring village. As she mourned his death, unknown assailants killed her other son, Mushtaq Ahmad Dar.

“Hell broke on me when I heard about Mushtaq’s murder,” she recalled.

Amin was involved with the militancy but her other sons were not, Begum said.

In the case of Nabi’s disappearance, she suspects that the people who whisked him away were policemen assigned to counter-insurgency operations in the area.

Calls for a new probe

For the past few years, Taja Begum has joined other relatives of missing Kashmiris at rallies organized by Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP).

At its latest rally, last month in Srinagar, the association called on Jammu & Kashmir’s new state government to launch a new formal investigation into the fate of missing loved ones.

“My son Javid Ahmad Ahanger was picked up by security men during a nocturnal raid in March 1994 from my home,” Parveena Ahanger, 53, told BenarNews. “To this day I do not know whether he is dead or alive. For more than two decades, I have exhausted all my resources searching for him in vain.”

Javid was 16 when he went missing.

“In 2002, the government offered me Rs 100,000 (U.S. $1,567) but I refused to accept compensation against the life of my son, which is simply priceless to me,” Ahanger added.

“The new government also has turned a blind eye to my plight. My husband is bed-ridden due to illness but I will continue my fight till my last breath,” she added.

In March, a coalition of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Hindu nationalist party that rules India, was sworn into power in Jammu & Kashmir, the country’s only Muslim-majority state.

On March 27, the APDP sent a letter to the state’s new chief minister, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, asking that his administration set up a new commission of inquiry headed by two retired Supreme Court justices and assisted by a panel of international experts.

The association wants such a commission to investigate the cases of so-called “enforced disappearances” and find out whether the unmarked graves contain the remains of the missing people.

“There has been no response from the new government so far, which indicates its non-seriousness to the sensitive issue,” APDP Program Coordinator Khuram Parvez told BenarNews.

“The accused persons responsible for the cold-blooded murders should be identified and harsh punishment meted out to them.”

State officials weigh in

Responding to the call for a new probe, Abdul Haq Khan, the state Minister for Rural Development and Panchayati Raj, said J&K’s new administration shared the concerns of people who were struggling to reach closure in the case of their missing kinsmen.

“The government has recently taken over the reins of the state and it will look into the demand of relatives of disappeared persons,” Khan told BenarNews. “The government needs some more time to [establish] a mechanism for addressing the demands of aggrieved relatives.”

A BJP leader in the ruling coalition agreed that a commission of inquiry was needed, but he denied allegations that pro-India forces were largely behind those disappearances.

“A high-level independent commission should be set up to probe the disappearances in a time-bound manner and culprits – who are militants in most of cases – should be brought to book,” state lawmaker Ravindar Raina told BenarNews.

Past probe

A commission of inquiry was formed several years ago as a result of a petition put together by the International Forum for Justice (IFJ), the APDP and State Human Rights Commission (SHRC).

In 2011, the two-member bench issued a report recommending that DNA testing be done on human remains found in more than 2,000 unmarked graves in North Kashmir’s Bandipora, Baramulla and Kupwara districts.

"The bodies in unmarked graves shall be identified by techniques such as DNA profiling, carbon dating, dental examination, finger prints, physical description, distinctive medical characteristics, and forensic pathology," the bench recommended then.

But its recommendation went nowhere.

“Without providing any solid evidence, the then National Conference (NC)-led coalition government turned down the recommendations of its own rights commission, stating that all the people buried in unmarked graves were militants,” IJF Chairman Ahsan Untoo told BenarNews.

“Had the government been serious in giving justice to the victims’ families, it would have implemented its own rights groups’ recommendations in letter and spirit.”

Ali Mohammad Sagar, a lawmaker and former state minister with the NC party, defended the previous government’s record on the issue of unmarked graves.

“The NC-led coalition government investigated many such cases. However, in most of cases the investigations were still going on when our rule ended,” Sagar told BenarNews.


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