Addressing a function on the International Day of the Disappeared last week, noted poet and social worker Zareef Ahmad Zareef added a new dimension to the phenomenon of enforced disappearance. According to him, the phenomenon is not new but dates back to 1947.
Zareef narrated the story of the enforced disappearance of his maternal uncle:
“My his maternal uncle Gul Mohammad, a 10th standard student then, was arrested in 1948 by the forces of Sheikh Abdullah from his home at Jamia Masjid, Nauhatta and subjected to enforced disappearance for his pro-freedom and anti-National Conference ideology.”
Gul Mohammad, he said, was sent to the Central Jail by the forces and subjected to interrogation for being a part of the students delegation that had met Muhammad Ali Jinnah in Srinagar a few years earlier.
“All people with pro-freedom sentiments were sent to the Central Jail. Besides my uncle, Ghulam Hassan Banday of Gurgadi Mohalla, Aali Kadal was also lodged at the jail. He is buried there. His grave has been shown to people by officials,” Zareef said.
People generally believe that enforced disappearances began in 1989 with the start of the armed struggle. The Association of Parents of Disappeared persons (APDP) formed in1994 by Parvez Imroz and his associates has been agitating the matter since then. The organisation has been demanding a commission of enquiry to probe all Disappearances in Jammu and Kashmir.
The APDP’s fight has made enforced disappearances in Jammu and Kashmir an international issue. Its struggle has evoked response and support from various countries across the globe. The European Union passed a resolution on mass graves after taking cognizance of a report by the APDP and its partner IPTK (International Tribunal for Justice in Kashmir) in 2008, and urged the government of India to take appropriate measures.
Successive governments have issued contradictory statements on the number of the disappeared. But around four thousand disappearances have been admitted on the floor of the Legislative Assembly. Notwithstanding these admissions, the government says that the disappeared persons shown on the APDP list have crossed the LoC to seek arms training.
While tears have been shed for those who disappeared in 1947, or since 1989, people who disappeared while carrying food, arms and ammunition for Dogra soldiers on icy Himalayan peaks in the remote areas of Gilgit and other parts of the Wet Desert find no mention anywhere. There is only passing reference of them in history books. A drama produced by the Radio Kashmir, Veth Rooz Pakan (Jehlum Continued to Flow), threw some light on the days when Kashmiris were taken for bonded labour to Bawanjun in Ladakh. Very few people returned. All others disappeared, or rather succumbed to harsh weather and very difficult terrain.
The phrase bawanjun sozath (I will send you to Bawanjan) is still in vogue in Kashmir to imply “if you cross me, you will vanish into thin air.”
Some Kashmiris would be sent to the Paddar sapphire mines. They would work day and night, without food, to extract the stone. Hundreds would die. Even today, human bones can be seen around these mines. These are the bones of our ancestors. Hundreds of years have passed, and nobody has ever talked of according them a proper burial.
The APDP has a major role to play. It cannot let bygones be bygones. For a disappearance-free future, we have to remember all those who disappeared for being Kashmiri. It is a choice between remembrance and forgetfulness. Those who disappeared during bonded labour in Bawanjan and other far off places need a fair deal. The bones at Paddar have to be given a decent burial. Similarly, a memorial must be erected for all those who have disappeared over the past 150 years. The APDP has to take the initiative, and the wider civil society has to contribute.
The Hurriyat leadership also has to come forward. A march to Paddar for burying the bones of our ancestors needs to be considered. Even the state government cannot remain a silent spectator. In fact, the call for a march to Paddar must come from the National Conference. Does it remember that the fight against the Dogras was led by the Sher-e-Kashmir?
The Jehlum continued to flow (veth rooz pakaan), and it has to continue flowing. The disappearances in Paddar, Bawanjan and other parts of the state cannot throttle it.