Enforced Disappearances: A Constant Struggle Between Uncertainty & Hope
For his disappeared love, he went from hole to hole, grave to grave, searching for the eyes that don’t find. From gravestone to gravestone, from cry to cry, it went through niches, through shadows and it went like this.
Missing the loved one, remembering him every moment, living between hope and uncertainty, searching him in every possible place, living with his shadows and faded memories, is not new to the family members whose loved ones have disappeared. It happens every day and it will continue to happen. It lasts from dawn to dusk. It has become a nightmare. It gives living sleepless nights and some die while waiting for their loved ones to return home. They wait, to know about the fate of their beloved ones, who were taken away from them, by armed monsters, like chicks taken away from the hen by the mighty eagle. But somewhere deep in the heart of their hearts, they know the fate of their snatched beloved ones. They know the monsters are way too cruel to let go off them. An eagle takes away a chicken, only to feed on it. A mother loses her son, a wife her husband, a son and a daughter their father.
The crime of enforced disappearance is nothing new; although the term may be. The heinous crime became a systematic practice in Second World War during Hitler’s regime. Later, it was practised widely in Latin American countries, under the dictatorial regimes during the second half of 20th century. Jammu and Kashmir, sandwiched between the two ideologically opposite nuclear giants, is the highest militarized place on earth. Armed conflict since late 1980’s has changed it drastically. Extra judicial killings, fake encounters, tortures, rapes, enforced disappearances, have become the ubiquitous phenomenon. The paradise on earth is now the place where grievous human rights violations take place on daily basis.
The phenomenon of Enforced Disappearance is not new to Kashmir. The practice of this crime was born with the birth of the conflict. According to Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons, an organization based in Srinagar primarily started by relatives of disappeared ones, around 10,000 men have been subjected to go into oblivion, since 1989. These disappearances include men from different professions and different ages. Both young and old have fallen prey to this ongoing abhorrent practice. It all started in the early 1990s, when Indian armed personnel, in order to carry out counter-insurgency operations in Kashmir, were given immense unchecked powers under the AFSPA. The original AFSPA of 1958 passed by the Indian Parliament did not cover the region of Jammu and Kashmir. In 1990, the Indian Parliament passed the Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act (AFJKSPA), which essentially extended powers of the army with regards to the disputed region of Jammu and Kashmir, now considered a “Disturbed Areas” in the military vocabulary. In the aftermath of this draconian law, thousands of people have disappeared in the custody of security forces which includes Special Operation Group (SOG), Border Security Forces (BSF), Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), the Rashtriya Rifles (RR) and other smaller paramilitary units. Ikhwanis, the largest group of surrendered militants created by the Indian agencies to crush local support to insurgency staged a naked dance of death and destruction. They played a lead role in the custodial torture, extortion, cold blooded murder and disappearance of thousands of civilians.
In August 2011, a harsh truth which had been buried for a long time finally surfaced out. Around 2700 human skeletons were recovered in mass graves in the Northern Districts of Kashmir. Human rights groups have repeatedly called for an independent investigation into allegations of unlawful killings and enforced disappearances by Indian security forces. There is not a single case in which, those responsible for “disappearing” a person in custody have been brought to justice, i.e. convicted and sentenced for the crime.
Disappearances give rise to fear in the society. Other than the immediate aim of countering rebellion, it is also directed to kill dissent and force the people to change their stance against the state. The disappearance of a person, who usually happens to be a male in case of Kashmir, affects all his family members and even the society at large. Parents are left with a dilemma about the fate of their son, a wife about her husband and children about their father. They hope against hope. Some days they are reminded of the callous truth of the conflict and the evil nature of the state and other days they hope to a bright day when their loved one comes back to them. However, it is the women folk who have suffered the most because of this rights-violating malfeasance, carried against men of this besieged territory. We now have Half-widows and Half-mothers in thousands here. Men have disappeared, but no one can tell if they, God forbid, are dead, or, God willing, alive.
Half Widows are the wives of disappeared men, who are left behind struggling for survival. They suffer economically, psychologically, fighting their own demons and society’s negligence, simultaneously. These women have assumed the roles of bread winners now. Getting economic subsidies, such as through ration cards and transferring husband’s bank account options are not available to them, as these processes require death certificate of their husband which is not available with them. As remarriage is an option but the hope that their husbands may be alive stop them from going for it. The role of the state towards eliminating this evil practice of ‘Enforced Disappearance’ has been very negative. Time and again government release contradictory figures regarding the number of disappeared men in Kashmir. No credible investigation has taken place to look into the cases of men found buried in Kashmir’s mass graves. The approach towards compensation process for the kith and kin of disappeared men is totally flawed. The structure of district-cum-coordination committee which was founded in the 1990s for granting exgratia relief to the family members of disappeared ones was blemished. The Committee had powers to decide if a missing person may be presumed dead and grant exgratia relief to the next of kin. Also, most of the members of the committee come from police and security forces. It would be an irony to expect any favour from those who have been hand-in-glove while carrying these crimes in collaboration with the occupational forces.
It all comes down to the civil society to take cognizance of this scaring issue. It is the people of Kashmir, who have to come forward and take note of this section of society, who after almost three decades long struggle are yet to see the results in their favour. The relatives of the disappeared persons, especially the women folk, have fought tooth and nail against the state, to get to know the whereabouts of those missing. True, we may not be able to find them out, but by collaborating with each other, we can put a brake on the state to further this heinous war tactic and other such unlawful actions.
It’s shameful on our part, that we haven’t been showing solidarity en masse, with those who have faced the torments of their separation from their loved ones. And what could be more shameful than the fact that for the same purpose, for the same cause, we are holding two separate sit-ins called by two different groups based in Valley to commemorate the International Day of Disappearances? In a war zone, like Kashmir, a collaboration of the people sharing similar or varying sentiments and diverse situations, but facing a common enemy, becomes inevitable. By remaining aloof from a movement of a particular section of the society, subject to a certain crime, we only end up dividing our collective movement and society at large from within.
Post Script: The current social apathy with the victims of the enforced disappearances exposes our social fabric to an elitist, unconcerned and dehumanizing flavour. To retain moral high ground and keep a marked distance from the oppressor, our society must get together to empathize and associate with the neglected victims of the conflict, one category among whom are the victims of enforced disappearances. A sense of association is required from the society, in general, to fight for their rights and own the victims as intrinsic organs of our social body. In the face of social indifference to their pains, the children of the disappeared persons grow up with a sense of personal loss and it reflects how as an oppressed society we are in a malaise. It is high time to reconnect with our neglected victims, own them and resolve to fight oppression as a society, not its fragmented parts. Social solidarity is the first step in the arduous journey of nation-building. Enforced disappearances are part of our collective pain, we have to own it and fight for justice together.
The author is studying Political Science at Aligarh Muslim University.
Disclaimer: Views expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position and policy of Oracle Opinions.