On August 30, 2012 on the eve of International Disappearances Day, numerous Kashmir families took a pledge that they would fight the legal battle to prove that enforced disappearances in Kashmir have occurred over the past two decades. Women who have husbands or sons who are part of the ‘The Disappeared' have also promised they would continue to work and not shy away from bringing justice forward.
Even though detailed documents of proof are currently available through the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) in Srinagar that point to crimes involving security forces in Kashmir, the cases of those who suffered under enforced disappearance has met little formal investigation.
APDP is one of the organizations that is championing the cause of disappearance in Kashmir. Working to document the number of widows who have been impacted during years of conflict in the region, the organization is focused on human rights for victims who have often not been able to trust local authorities or the larger Indian government for help.
“Enforced Disappearance is abduction or kidnapping, carried out by State agents, or organized groups and individuals who act with State support or tolerance, in which the victim ‘disappears',” outlines the APDP. “Authorities neither accept responsibility for the dead, nor account for the whereabouts of the victim… ….Increasingly the international community considers Enforced Involuntary Disappearance as a specific human rights violation and a crime against humanity,” continues the APDP.
Wearing white head bands with “Stop Disappearances” written on them in black, relatives with a majority of them women, came together on August 30 to form a ‘sit-in' at Pratap Park in the Lal Chowk section of Kashmir's capital city of Srinagar. This was their way to pay tribute and to bring international attention to those who have been subject to a denial of their rights under enforced disappearances.
Along with activists and volunteers, the memorial rally moved to land donated by APDP for erecting a statue which will be dedicated to all ‘The Disappeared' in the valley.
“We have come here with a cause. I lost all my four sons to conflict. I was fortunate to get the dead bodies of two sons and others two sons are disappeared. I tried to search for my two sons everywhere but of no avail,” outlines Taja Begum, an elderly woman who has come to Srinagar from Kashmir's northern mountainous Bandipora district to participate in the sit-in.
“I have no wishes. All I want is that before I'll die I should be able at least to know whether they are alive or dead,” she said of her missing family members.
Begum is one of the thousands of Kashmiri victim families whose members are lost in the midpoint between officially missing and confirmed dead.
In a region where numerous police reports can be left with little to no official investigation, impacts for tracking crime in Kashmir falls on the homes of those most vulnerable. It does not help that the situation surrounding ‘The Disappeared' has included a complex group of quarreling political forces in the region who have been juggling power for over the past twenty years. The players include regular security forces – the Indian Army, the Border Security Force (BSF) and the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), as well as moving paramilitary groups in the region.
“…More than one hundred cases of detainees disappearing in the custody of the security forces have been documented by human rights groups since the conflict began,” said Human Rights Watch in a detailed report made over 15 years ago in 1996. Today the situation for many women has caused them and their families to get caught in the crossfires.
Even with continued pressure from global human rights organizations as well as attorneys, since the year 1996, government transparency and accountability has not been forthcoming.
“Lawyers in Kashmir have filed more than 15,000 habeas corpus petitions since 1990 calling on state authorities to reveal the whereabouts of detainees and the charges against them. However, in the vast majority of cases, the authorities have not responded, and the petitions remain pending in the courts,” said Human Rights Watch in 1996. “Even when the High Court has ordered state authorities to produce detainees in court or release those against whom no charges have been brought, state and security force officials have refused to comply. Lawyers have also filed petitions charging officials with contempt for non-compliance, but these petitions have also received no response,” added the 1996 report.
Today in 2012 the situation has not much improved, the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) is now working with over 300 families who have relatives who are still unaccounted for. Many are husbands or sons who were taken away under unexplained arrests.
To answer the need for families to find answers, the APDP has demanded publicly that the government of India should implement all recommendations of the United Nations Universal Periodic Review-2 (UPR2), which calls for all violations of human rights in the region to be fully investigated.
“We have documented cases in [the] district Srinagar and out of all cases, almost 82. 25 per cent, have eyewitness accounts of the direct involvement of the security forces. Despite having all the first-hand accounts, no action has been taken against the perpetrators,” said Parveena Ahanger, President of the APDP. “Instead, the criminals are getting awards for killings and other human rights violation[s] in the name of ‘exemplary work',” she added.
A formal petition by APDP partner, the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), was also made with APDP to the Jammu & Kashmir State Human Rights Commission branch of India's National Human Rights Commission. It outlines 507 unsolved cases.
This isn't the first petition. In 2011 JKCCS asked for the Jamu Kashmir Police Force to investigate other cases, but no response from the police came forward.