“Nobody understands a mother’s pain. I’m a victim, there are many like us. APDP was founded from my pain, from all of these mother’s pain.”
Parveena Ahangar (Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons)
Human rights campaigners were in for a memorable time earlier this year when Parveena Ahangar, Iron Lady of the Valley was invited to speak at the University of Westminster, London about “enforced disappearances” in Kashmir. Around 8,000- 10,000 men have gone missing in Indian administered Kashmir since insurgency began in 1989 though Indian authorities dispute the figures. Parveena’s life changed forever when on the night of 18 August, 1990 her son Javed Ahmad Ahangar, then a 16-year-old student, was picked up allegedly by the Army during a midnight raid on his uncle’s house at Bodhipora in the Batmaloo area of Srinagar City.
Parveena tried all ways to find her son and realizing she was not alone but one of many whose sons had disappeared decided to set up the Association of Parents of Disappeared People (APDP) to mobilize others and fight for the return of their loved ones. Two of Parveena’s young sons Mohammed and Javed fell victim to the Indian authorities. Mohammed was released after one year in detention but Javed who was taken away by the security forces in what Parveena believes was a case of mistaken identity remains missing. In an interview with Pamela Bhagat, Parveena, who was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2005, states,
“his name is Javed Ahmed Ahangar and our neighbour’s son, a militant activist of the same age is Javed Ahmed Bhat. They most probably came for him but nabbed my Javed instead. Bhat has since become a reformed militant with a flourishing agricultural business, a comfortable home, a wife and has recently been blessed with a son. Everytime I see him, I don’t grudge him his happiness but I can’t help thinking of my Javed”
In readiness for International Day of Enforced Disappearances (August 30th) the Hurriyat Conference called for the global community to exert pressure on India to investigate what happened to those who went missing. Senior Hurriyat leaders including Zaffar Akbar Bhat, Javaid Ahmad Mir, Syed Salim Geelani, Yasmeen Raja along with activists joined forces with families of the disappeared at a Press enclave in Srinagar to highlight the need for government action and to ascertain exactly who was buried in unmarked graves. They released a press statement demanding the return of the victims and alleged that more than 9 thousand people were picked up by the state whose fate was still not known.
Hussaina Bano died without knowing what happened to her son
(image Kashmir Lit)
Sadly it was already too late for some mothers reported Kashmir Lit. Hussaina Bano, one of the activists working with APDP passed away on 4th October 2013 never knowing what happened to her son Syed Ayub who left for work one morning in 2002 and never returned. Witnesses allege he was picked up by Indian troops and removed to an unknown location but it is not known whether he is dead or alive.
In limbo waiting for husband to return (image APDP, Reuters)
Alongside mothers searching for sons are the half-widows waiting in limbo neither married nor widows to discover what has happened to their husbands. It is thought that around 90% have not remarried. Begum Rafiqua whose husband Mushtaq Ahmad Khan was allegedly picked up by security in 1997, spoke to Reuters in 2007 saying,
“I went to every security camp and police station in the hope of finding any clue, but all in vain”
“Is he alive or dead? … It is a constant pain. But most of the time my heart tells me he is still alive. How can I remarry?”
“I wish no women suffers like we suffer”
More than 23 years after the first enforced disappearances in the Indian held Kashmir, an edict was announced in 2014 from a group of Islamic scholars enabling women whose husbands had gone missing to re-marry after four years of waiting for their spouses.
Parveena Ahangar told the Andalou Agency,
“we welcome this edict and are happy that at least finally the Ulemas came together to take a decision on it and remove any social stigma from the re-marriages of half-widows. But they should have done it many years ago; now those women are worried about their children’s marriage and have forgotten themselves,”
Widows can claim compensation under civil law but must produce a death certificate, the amount varies depending on whether or not she has children. A half-widow would not get anything though that may now have changed with the 4 year ruling.
See Abid Bhat’s poignant series of black and white portraits of half-widows,
London Protest in solidarity with families of disappeared Kashmir
Join us in St Martin’s Place, London (2pm) on Saturday 30th August to commemorate International Day of Disappeared Persons in solidarity with the families of Kashmir’s victims of disappearance – Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP)
Kashmir Reader, Day of the Disappeared
Carol Anne Grayson is an independent writer/researcher on global health/human rights and is Executive Producer of the Oscar nominated, Incident in New Baghdad . She is a Registered Mental Nurse with a Masters in Gender Culture and Development. Carol was awarded the ESRC, Michael Young Prize for Research 2009, and the COTT ‘Action = Life’ Human Rights Award’ for “upholding truth and justice”. She is also a survivor of US “collateral damage”.