From Aljazeera: “The Disappeared of Kashmir”
His unibrow twists and arches furiously. The creases on his face tighten. His eyes shift from the door and with his index finger he points towards the ceiling. Then he stares straight at me and begins to speak – his voice like a calamitous clap of thunder, echoing off the cold walls and ringing in my ears.
I have no idea what he is saying, but his tone conveys everything.
“Take it easy … they are here to listen to your story … don’t be angry,” says Parveena Ahangar, the chairperson of the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP), one of two organisations going by the same name in Kashmir, as she tugs gently at the old man’s knee.
But he refuses and embarks on a second tirade; spitting as he pronounces a series of adjectives that I recognise as expletives.
A friend who has accompanied me for the purpose of translating whispers: “I can’t translate all of this. He is cursing just about everyone there is to possibly swear at.”
Ghulam Muhammad Wani needs a moment to clear his mind. I happily give him three.
The 80-year-old is short and stocky but cuts an imposing figure. Dressed in a dirty, brown pheran, he sits on the floor of his living room in Rajbagh, Srinagar. His overstretched woolen socks loop around the contours of his feet, stealing dust from the parched carpet below.
He tells us his story.
A father’s anguish
On the evening of May 14, 1996, members of the counter-insurgent Ikhwan group, a pro-government militia made up of former insurgents, now working for the Indian army, knocked on his door and took off with this son, Imtiyaz Ahmed Wani.
Suspected of being an insurgent, a separatist fighting for freedom from the Indian state, Imtiyaz disappeared without trace.
After searching from pillar to post, visiting police stations and army officers, Wani went to the State Human Rights Commission to file a complaint about his missing son. Finding no joy there, he sold a property, took out a loan and paid a seemingly sympathetic counter-insurgent who promised information about his missing son. But the money, like his son, disappeared.
“My son was a gardener at the forest department, earning Rs 2,000 ($45) a month; he did no wrong,” Wani finally offers.
“It has been 15 years,” he trails off.
During his desperate search for Imtiyaz, a policeman from the Special Task Force (a counter-insurgency wing of the Jammu and Kashmir police force) came to his house and offered him 1,200 rupees ($30) as piecemeal compensation. Over time, Wani was also approached by politicians offering him “aid” in exchange for his silence.
“I told them to leave … it would have been like accepting blood money.
“They robbed me of my son, who will now bury me when I go?” Wani asks the silent room.
Buried Evidence, a report published by the International People’s Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Indian-administered Kashmir (IPTK) in 2009, reported the number to be “8,000 plus”.
It is a figure disputed by the Indian government and SM Sahai, the chief of police in Kashmir, says it is grossly exaggerated.
“This number is not correct, and most of the missing persons are fighters who crossed [the] border into Pakistan, and are still there,” he says.
Human rights activists say the government has repeatedly released contradictory figures, indicating a lack of seriousness in addressing the issue.
“One day, they say it is 3,931 people missing, the next day it is 3,749 … they are not serious about it,” says Parvez Imroz, a human rights activist and co-founder of the original Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP).
Zahir-ud-Din, a local journalist whose investigation into disappearances in Kashmir culminated in a book, Did they vanish in thin air, concurs that the state has marginalised the issue. One can even pick up on it from the language employed – ‘missing’ as opposed to ‘disappearance’, ud-Din says. (To read more click on the link above)