SRINAGAR, July 15: Parveena Ahanger searched for her son for two decades in graveyards, security camps, and police stations across Kashmir.
“But all in vain. I am sure he lies buried somewhere without the last rites,” the 48-year-old said, as tears rolled down her face.
Ahanger said any doubt about her son’s death had dissipated after State Human Rights Commission said that thousands of corpses have been found buried in several unmarked graves across Kashmir, believed to be victims of the divided region’s separatist revolt.
“Now I am sure that my son and others who disappeared were killed in fake encounters,” she said.
Javid Ahmad Ahanger was 17 when he vanished.
The graves, that were found in dozens of villages, have thrown a spotlight on thousands of people who human rights groups say have disappeared since a revolt against Indian rule broke out in 1989.
The verdant valleys and snow-capped peaks of Kashmir have witnessed continuous bloodshed since militants took up arms against government in 1989.
“Give us at least bodies of our loved ones so that we can give them a decent Islamic burial,” whispered Ahanger at a monthly sit-in protest.
Every month more than two dozen other women, young and old, join her in Partap park, carrying pictures of missing relatives.
“I want to kiss the remains of my dear son, at least tell me where he lies buried,” cried 75-year-old Saja, whose son disappeared in Kashmir’s northern Kupwara district 11 years ago.
The independent Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP), says at least 10,000 people have disappeared in the past 17 years, most of them in the ‘custody of security forces’.
Authorities put the numbers of missing at between 1,000 and 3,000. They deny allegations that people disappear from custody and say their investigations reveal that most of them crossed into Pakistani Kashmir for arms training.
“The government is keen to bring the facts about all innocent killings and disappearances to the fore,” an official said.
“The expectation is not of justice,” said Syed Abinah Nawaz, a psychiatrist.
“She (Ahanger) and other parents want to lay their children into the graves themselves, and once and for all end these days and night of uncertainty.”
Security forces in Kashmir have been accused of murdering innocent civilians in staged gun battles and passing them off as separatist militants to earn rewards and promotions.
Authorities have consistently denied systematic human rights violations in Kashmir and say they probe all such reports and punish the guilty.
“The true fate of the people who have disappeared in this conflict, possibly may never be known,” Ghulam Nabi, the father of 27-year-old Mukhtar Ahmad, a businessman, who ‘vanished’ after security forces raided their house in 2000.
“Let us pray for them,” Nabi said in a dimly lit room of his house built on the edge of a graveyard in Srinagar as muezzin in the nearby mosque made the call for prayer.