SRINAGAR: “I have never ever given in to any pressure and will continue to protest and fight for justice” says Parveena Ahangar, chairperson of the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP).
Ahangar is unassuming and usually a soft spoken woman but her voice gets louder and firmer as she speaks about the resistance and justice. Sporting a snow white headband which carries the word “disappeared’’ and a symbol of a hand in black, with a finger—middle one– chopped off , Ahangar shows up on the 10th of every single month along with a knot of women at Srinagar’s Pratab park—all wearing the same bands– to hold peaceful sit-ins.
The symbol on their headbands signifies the family with one of its members missing. The group of protesting women including Ahangar herself are the family members of victims of enforced disappearances. They are looking for justice starting with the whereabouts of their kith and kin since the past many years.
Ahangar , a 2005 Nobel nominee comes from a very humble back ground. In the early nineties, like thousands of middle class Kashmiri women she would manage her family chores. This all changed when her 16 year old son Javed Ahmad Ahangar disappeared, having allegedly been taken in by the Indian army.
“There is no trace of him ever since army men in civvies picked him up on August 8, 1990 from his uncle’s home at Dhobi Mohalla of Batamaloo area during a raid in the dead of night ” said Ahangar.
Ahmad Ahangar according to her mother was a student of class 10th and had nothing to do with militancy. After a few days of search in different army camps, Ahangar registered an FIR with Shergarhi police station and also approached almost all movers and shakers in politics and establishment. But as nothing came out of it she rose above personal trauma and came up with the idea of fighting in tandem with the families of other victims.
The first thing that Ahangir undertook was a rather arduous task—gathering information about the victims of enforced disappearances across Kashmir.
“During those days a prominent Urdu newspaper would carry exclusively the small pieces on custodial killings and enforced disappearances on daily basis. These pieces turned out very helpful for me to collate the information”
As all the areas of Valley were not telephonically connected in the mid nineties, Ahangar amidst despicable violence — often putting her life on the line– visited well -nigh every pocket of Kashmir, even the remotest and heavily militarized areas of the north and south to mobilize the families of victims.
“It was a way difficult thing and even more difficult was to prod and encourage them to come forward, speak up and fight as the Indian forces had unleashed a reign of terror everywhere” Ahangar said.
Finally in the year 1994 she founded the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP). The organization not only holds monthly protests and fights the cases of victims in different courts but also helps some of the affected families financially out of the donations it collects from local philanthropists who rally their cause. The organization also receives a small grant from the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights under its voluntary fund for victims of torture.
“We have a plethora of members confronting the economic insecurities particularly the half widows—women whose husbands stand disappeared– as they could not inherit the property of their spouses because they have not officially been declared dead so we have to make every effort to do away with some of their severe financial troubles”, Ahanger said.
According to an estimates there are around 8000 enforced disappearance cases in Kashmir. In 2011 APDP released a report –Half Widow, Half Wife? Responding to Gender Violence that puts the number of just the half widows at around 1500.
Besides receiving the nominations for the peace Noble peace prize, in 2011 Ahangar rejected CNN-IBN now CNN-News 18’s “Indian of the Year Award”.
“It was a sheer hypocrisy as the channel instead could have upped the pressure on government to provide us the whereabouts of our children? Which it never did,” Ahangar added.
Although so far there does not seem to be much hope insofar state action to trace the disappeared is concerned, Ahangar said that she would not fold her tents and would fight relentlessly till the end.
(The writer is a fellow with National Foundation for India, New Delhi)