Mushaal Hussein Mullick
Just imagine a woman who is a wife and a widow at the same time: she does not know where her spouse is; whether he is dead or alive; would he ever return home or not? Or a mother, who continuously hopes to hear the footsteps of her son, is stuck in a life of hope and fear. A child who is unable to decide if he or she is not fatherless or an orphan, with curious eyes constantly glued to the door and a sister watching outside from her window with never-ending tears in her eyes searching for her missing brother. Sadly, these people have extraordinary titles as they face extraordinary challenges. They are the half-widows, half-mothers, half-orphans and half-siblings of the society. They have very little left to say. Their only choice is to keep on searching for the traces of their loved ones who have entirely vanished from the face of earth. The impacts of dealing with such enforced disappearances and invisibility are far deeper compared to seeing the spilled blood of their loved one.
The saying ‘hope never dies’ fits perfectly with Kashmir’s missing persons saga. The only faith that clings to families searching for their kith and kin and not having seen or recovering the dead bodies of their loved is and the hope that they may still be alive. Most of the emotional, psychological and financial burden is carried by the Kashmiri women: the mothers, the daughters, the wives and sisters of such missing individuals. The Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) headed by Parveena Ahanger is an organization that seeks the whereabouts of the missing persons. She herself is a mother of Javaid, a member of Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front who went missing in 1992. Ever since, her untiring journey began to find the clues, to the whereabouts of her missing son. In the process it brought her in contact with thousands of families from Kashmir facing identical challenges and obstacles in pursuing the whereabouts of their relatives.
30th August each year marks the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances to show solidarity with the victims of the worst form of human rights violation. According to the Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, ‘No circumstances whatsoever, whether a threat of war, a state of war, political unrest, public emergency may be involved to justify enforced disappearances’. Such days for victims are only another painful and catastrophic reminder of what they have been robbed of or what has been snatched from them.
While missing persons is not a new notion to the Kashmir conflict, nonetheless the ratio has kept rising at an alarming rate in the current years. Even though Indian state’s inhumane behavior in Occupied Kashmir is decades old but if we take a close view of the figures ranging from January 1989 to December 31, 2018 the statistics are quite gruesome and shocking. According to Kashmir Media Service Report, during this period 94,888 innocent people have been killed; custodial deaths are 7,099; 143,048 structures destroyed; 22,862 women widowed; 107,676 children orphaned; and 11,036 women were gang raped/molested by the Indian troops. Killings, arrests and enforced disappearances have also continuously been reported during these periods.
India has left no stone unturned using all sort of barbarism to suppress Kashmiris’ legitimate right to self-determination but has failed to break the will of the Kashmiri people. The presence of such a large number of Indian troops certainly incite unnecessary incidents of violence which further aggravate the plight of populace, serves as an explanation for warlike situations, violation of ceasefire line, draconian laws, disappeared persons, half-widows, half-mothers, rape victims, economic blockades, lockdowns and curfews that last for weeks-on-end.
The United Nations Commission on Human Rights established the working group in 1980 to assist families in determining the fate and whereabouts of their disappeared relatives. India signed the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance in February 2007; however, it miserably failed to abide by the laws of the convention.
‘Missing Persons’ terminology is quintessential criminal act that was first adopted by Adolf Hitler in his Nacht und Nebel Erlass (Night and Fog Decree) of December 7, 1941. The single-mindedness of this decree was to seize persons in occupied territories “imperiling German security” who were not immediately executed and were taken secretly to Germany, where they disappeared without a trace. German authorities banned officials from providing any information in order to achieve the desired intimidating effect. The same tact was practiced in Latin America in 1970s and 1980s.
Under international law, forced disappearances (or enforced disappearances), as they are officially called, are considered one of the most serious violations of the fundamental rights of human beings as well as a “sin to human dignity and self-respect” and “a grave and abominable offense against the intrinsic dignity of the human race.”
The United Nations General Assembly has said that forced disappearance “constitutes an offence to humanity, a grave and flagrant violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms and a violation of the rules of international law.”
Kashmir has the highest number of half-widows in the world. The irony is that those involved in such crimes are the ones offering justice. What relief or compensation can the families of such victims expect from them? The NOKs (Next of Kins) of missing persons of Kashmir urgently call upon the global community to respond and end the sufferings of millions incarcerated without trace. Kashmiris appeal for prompt initiatives in accordance with the international laws and norms. One major element specific to enforced disappearances is that it deprives these innocent victims from all kinds of protection from law, accountability and quite conveniently veils such gross violations out of public sight and the occupying state frees itself from all radars of scrutiny.
Such blatant human rights violations will jeopardize the regional and global peace and there can be no enduring political settlement in Kashmir if human rights abuses which have fueled the insurgency are not addressed by the global community at the highest levels.
In Kashmir people vanish and land in unmarked graves. There is every possible link of unidentified dead bodies being buried in various unmarked graves with the victims of enforced disappearances. The UN has warned India many a times that Kashmiri families have the right to know the truth of how, when, where and why a disappeared person is found dead, the right to have the remains of their loved ones and to give them the burial rights in accordance with the International Humans Rights Charter, traditions, culture and religion of the said area. Ironically all have turned a deaf ear to the plight of the Kashmiris while India shamefully still champions herself as the largest democracy of the world and a peace loving country. Most often these missing persons all over the world particularly in Kashmir are referred to as some mysterious ghostly creatures spiriting between life and death. There appears to be law of the jungle prevailing in Indian Occupied Kashmir. The question is that can the world really afford to remain indifferent to such forms of consistent crimes of making human beings invisible which is by far worse than all forms of slavery, arbitrary detention, genocide, torture, ethnic discrimination, slave trade and murder. The voiceless cry from the missing persons of the Kashmir Valley is: When will the world listen and respond to cries of millions who have gone missing in Indian Occupied Kashmir?
The writer is Chairperson of Peace and Culture Organization and wife of Kashmiri freedom fighter Yasin Malik.