SRINAGAR: “Where are our loved ones?” an elderly woman Azra Begum holds a placard in her trembling hands in an attempt to highlight a painful message.
Begum is part of a monthly demonstration at Press Enclave near Residency Road in Srinagar. The demonstration is held on tenth day of every month by the relatives of persons who were subjected to enforced disappearance in Kashmir since 1989 when armed rebellion began against the Indian rule in the region.
Begum’s son Mushtaq Ahmad Dar, a resident of Tengpora area in Srinagar periphery disappeared in 1997. She was fighting a lonely battle till her meeting with Parveena Ahanger, Chairperson of the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP)—an organisation fighting for the whereabouts of persons subjected to enforced disappearances. Ahangar’s son was also picked up by Indian Army from Batamaloo area in early 1990s, never to return.
The APDP says that more than 5,000 persons have been subjected to enforced disappearance during the past 27 years in Jammu and Kashmir.
“For more than 13 years I was pleading my case alone. I used to go to police stations to file missing report of my son but nobody listened. After a decade of sustained fight, Police station Parimpora filed FIR in the case in 2007”, said the 70-year-old Begum.
Narrating her woeful tale, she said that on the evening of July 19, 1997, Indian Army’s 20 Grenadiers from Parimpora camp picked up Mushtaq Ahmad Dar, then a 19-year-old auto-rickshaw driver, from his home. He was never seen again after the arrest.
Dar’s family went from pillar to post to trace his whereabouts but to no avail.
Begum had lost her husband at a young age and had to struggle to feed her three small children. She could ill-afford to give education to her orphaned children in circumstances when providing two meals to her family was a big challenge.
Begum says that she has every right to demand the whereabouts of her missing son. “Everyone in this world has to taste death. I am aware of this fact. But pain of not knowing whether my son is dead or alive, is worse than death”, she said as tears welled her eyes.
“Had my son laid down his life in a gunfight, I would have resigned to the fact that he is no more. But he was picked up by the Army and subjected to disappearance. I don’t know which condition he is in. He was everything for me”, she said.
“I don’t want to live with this pain”, she said.
Begum says that an independent commission should be constituted to probe the cases of disappeared persons and other human rights violation. “We need justice. We want severe punishment to those who disappeared our loved ones in custody”, she said.