And the Search Continues

On the conclusion of the International Week of the Disappeared, the founder of the Association of the Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP), Advocate Parvez Imroz has reiterated his demand for a Commission of Inquiry to probe enforced disappearances in Jammu and Kashmir.

The APDP believes that 8,000 to 10,000 persons have been subjected to enforced disappearance since 1989. The government vehemently contests this figure.  A series of contradictory statements have been issued by successive dispensations. Amid these claims and counterclaims truth has become a casualty, and one is forced to believe that the government is hiding something.

The ruling coalition headed by Mufti Muhammad Sayeed had promised a probe into custodial disappearances but did not fulfill the promise.. The present Chief Minister has repeatedly taken Mufti to task for his government’s record on human rights. Addressing a press conference on May 2, 2008, Omar Abdullah said that 4000 Kashmiris were subjected to enforced disappearance by the state since 1990.

The process of issuing statements on custodial disappearances started in July 2002. Former Minister of State for Home, Khalid Najeeb Suharwardy issued a statement on July 18, 2002.  He admitted 3184 custodial disappearances since 1989. Another statement was issued by the former Chief Minister, Mufti Muhammad Sayeed on February 25, 2003. “During 2000, 1553 persons disappeared in the state, 1586 in 2001 and 605 in 2002,” Mufti informed the assembly.

This was followed by former Law Minister, Muzaffar Husain Beig’s statement on March 25, 2003. He told the assembly that 3744 persons had disappeared, out of whom 135 had been declared dead, up to June 2002.

Then came a stunning u-turn: In April 2003, Mufti said: “Only 60 persons have disappeared since the inception of militancy in the state.” This was during a joint press conference with the then Prime Minister. Mufti contradicted himself again on June 11, 2003 when he said that 3744 persons were reported missing from 1990 till December 31, 2002.

The tragedy of contradictions did not end here. In yet another statement, the then Minister of State for Home, Abdul Rahman Veeri stated on June 21, 2003 that 3931 persons had been reported missing since 1989 to June 2003.

When Ghulam Nabi Azad took over as Chief Minister, he informed the legislative assembly in March 2006 that 693 cases of custodial disappearance had been registered. His deputy, Muzaffar Husain Beig told the assembly on August 1, 2006 that sixty persons had disappeared during National Conference rule. On August 4, 2006, Azad told legislators that 33 custodial disappearances had taken place since 1990-1996. The very next day, he said 60 persons were subjected to custodial disappearance since 1995-2006.

These contradictory statements reflect that the government has been desperately trying to conceal the truth. In response to a list issued by the APDP a few years ago, the police said that most of those named in it had crossed over to Pakistan-administered-Kashmir to train as militants.

The myth stands exploded as nobody on the APDP list has availed of the government’s amnesty package which had specified and designated routes for those wishing to return. People coming back via-Nepal, not a designated crossing-point, are taken into custody and booked under anti-terrorism laws.

They were detained for a month or so and then set free. All of them are leading a happy life. They have been directed to ensure their presence in their police stations twice a week.

The fact that none of those named on the APDP list has been among the “returnees” casts doubts on the government’s stand, bearing out what Imroz had then said:

 “The statements issued in response to allegations of enforced disappearances will be put to the litmus test in the coming days when the home-coming starts. The government has been saying that the youth shown in the list of disappeared persons by human rights groups had gone to Pakistan to seek arms training. If they are really in Pakistan, they must return.”

The discovery of mass/unmarked graves across Jammu and Kashmir since 2008 has added a new dimension to the issue. Besides Imroz, many others believe that those dumped at these sites could be the ones in the list of the disappeared persons prepared by the APDP. To ascertain the truth, Imroz had sought DNA profiling of the bodies in the graves. But the government rejected the demand, saying it was not possible.

The government’s silence on the fate of its amnesty package justifies Imroz’ demand for DNA profiling of unmarked graves.