Twenty-one year old Farooq Ahmad Khan, from Kupwara (village) was fed up with the abject poverty and migrated to Srinagar City for a livelihood. He hardly anticipated that in the quest for making two ends meet, he would soon meet his own end.
Somehow, Farooq managed to get a job as a baker at Rainawari, Srinagar Kashmir. Life was normal but suddenly everything changed when Farooq along with his employer Bashir Ahmad were arrested on 24th August 2003 by a group of gypsy- borne men from the bakery shop at Rainawari. The armed men were later identified as the soldiers of 18 Rashtriya Rifles (RR). While the employer was released the next day, Khan was subjected to enforced disappearance. Meanwhile Farooq's father, Wali Mohammad made extensive efforts to locate his son but to no avail. The arresting agency denied his arrest. Certain that his son was alive in custody of soldiers; Wali was stunned when he read the local newspaper Alsafa on 20th October, which carried the photograph of his dead son. Shocked, Wali Khan couldn't believe his eyes when he read that his disappeared son had been branded as a Pakistani militant and that he had been killed while trying to storm an army camp at Nishat, Srinagar on 3rd September. Wali rushed to the Nishat police station but the police there denied any knowledge of his son saying that the militant had been identified as Imtiaz Khan and not Farooq Khan. A father's instinct never lies, they killed my son and are now even denying my son's body, says Khan. Moving from pillar to post to get his son's dead body, he was deprived of a decent burial for his son. Khan was turned away by the police officials concerned with the case. If the government is certain that they have not killed my son, why do they deny the exhumation of the dead body for post mortem? I am sure the DNA match will surely confirm that my son has been killed in custody and later branded as a Pakistani terrorist, says Khan. Wali Khan has not lost hope and he vows to continue the battle for justice.
Far away in downtown Srinagar, another house is undergoing a similar trauma of locating the whereabouts of their disappeared son. According to family members, Bashir Ahmad was picked up and dragged from his house in a nocturnal raid conducted by Border Security Force (BSF) on June 17, 2003 at Naidkadal. All the family members were locked up while my son was being mercilessly beaten by the BSF personnel, says Hameeda, mother of Bashir Ahmad. In spite of our wails, the soldiers took Bashir and said they will return him the next day, adds Hameeda. Though more than seven months have passed, Bashir has not returned. Leave aside returning him, they (BSF) even refuse to acknowledge his arrest, says Noor Mohammad, father of Bashir. The only brother in five sisters and key earner in the family, Bashir Ahmad had no links with the ongoing militancy and is a mechanic by profession, vouched for by his family - a fact corroborated by the local police station which reports that nothing incriminating has been found against him after checking his antecedents. Interestingly, forces were looking for a militant namely Bashir Ahmad Sofi and in this connection, had arrested three namesakes from different localities. While the other two were released, Bashir of Naidkadal is still missing. Bashir Ahmad Sofi of Khanyar, whom security forces were looking for, is already detained in some jail.
Manzoor Ahmad Mir s/o Ghulam Mohammad Mir, a mason by profession and resident of Baramulla was picked up by 22 RR on 7th September 2003. The captain assured the family members that their son would be released the next day but nearly five months have passed and Manzoor continues to be in custody if he is still alive.
These and numerous other cases of enforced disappearance are the victims of the 'Healing Touch' policy of the new Government, which took over the reigns of the State in the month of November 2002. At that time, people had pinned hopes on the new government led by Mufti Sayed. Prior to coming to power, the People's Democratic Party (PDP) made human rights violation their election plank. The party promised that if elected to power they would put an end to the human rights violations perpetrated by the security forces in Kashmir and also probe the human rights violations committed during the previous governments. But a year and three months have passed since they assumed power and disappearances along with torture, custodial killings, rape continue unabated and with a fervor even stronger than before.
The government has maintained a cold silence over the violations especially over enforced disappearance and is skirting the issue. The Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP), since its inception in 1994, has been demanding from the different governments in the state and also the federal government in India to reveal the whereabouts of their dear ones and if they are no more, declare them dead. APDP resorted to many tools like hunger strikes, candlelight protests, signature campaigns and all peaceful means to highlight their plight, but the government has never responded. Instead, the government put down all their claims and whenever APDP made public the list of disappearances, the government dismissed it as 'malicious propaganda.' Recently, on January 5, 2004, a police spokesman reacting to a statement of APDP (in which it was said that 116 persons have been subjected to enforced disappearance during Mufti Sayed's one year government) said At least 43 of the disappeared persons of Kashmir valley have been found in their homes during police investigations into the charges ordered by the government, except for 26 names, 13 of whom are still under investigation, every one else has been accounted for, 22 persons figured in the list of the so-called disappeared persons have joined militant ranks as per the investigations. Six others have died. Two persons have been found in the custody and cases stand registered against them. Finally the government was forced to conduct investigations into the cases of disappearances due to APDP's persistent efforts to pressure the government. APDP falsified Mufti government's claim that human rights violations have ceased once they came to power. APDP organized a press conference on 30th January 2004 and dismissed the government's statement as baseless and unfounded. According to the latest data collected by the Association and as per the relatives of the disappeared, only three persons from the list presented by them have joined the militant ranks. Ironically, the government claimed one Bashir Ahmad Wani of Baghtipora village in Kupwara district, who was subjected to custodial disappearance, had joined militancy while his parents maintain that he had been an active militant since 1990 and was arrested on March 15, 2003 from his in-laws' house in Baramulla.
Even by the state government's own admission, 26 persons have disappeared for which it claims 13 are still under investigation and everyone else has been accounted for. If six others have died, the APDP believes that the government is duty bound to show the bodies. The APDP found some "disappeared men" had returned to their homes but only when the Association presented the previous list. The men confirmed they had been arrested by the security agencies and their parents had denied their whereabouts. The APDP questions persistent silence of the PDP - led Coalition government on its "Common Minimum Programme," which says, all cases of custodial killing and violations of Human Rights shall be investigated and persons responsible for them will be identified and punished appropriately. Also, the People's Democratic Party (PDP) promised to probe all disappearances since 1990 and that the phenomenon would cease if they came to power. The government's promises have proved to be a hoax and it seems they are helpless before their own security forces. Significantly, contradictory to its so called healing touch policy, more men have disappeared during the past one year of the PDP-led government than its predecessors' National Conference's rule.
During 2001 and 2002 of National Conference rule, 35 and 59 persons respectively disappeared in custody while 54 (according to the governments' own admission) have so far disappeared in custody. The figures clearly belie the government's claim of putting an end to the human rights violations, particularly enforced disappearances.
Recently during a political development in which a faction of Hurriyat Conference (Hurryiat stands divided with one faction led by Ansari and other by Geelani), delegates led by Ansari during a meeting with Deputy Prime Minister (DyPM), Lal Krishna Advani, raised the issue of the spurt in human rights violations including enforced or involuntary disappearances (EID). On 22nd January 2004, Hurriyat furnished a list of persons who had disappeared mysteriously in custody. Advani promised to look into the matter. The Deputy Prime Minister (DyPM) on January 24th ordered the inquiry into 18 disappearances. He also gave directions to the heads of the security agencies operating in the valley to direct the security forces personnel in Kashmir to be polite and win over the hearts of the Kashmiri people. By ordering probes in just 18 disappearances, Advani has further boosted the morale of perpetrators while he is talking of winning over hearts.
Human rights violations continue unabated. India and Pakistan have yet again made an effort to come to the negotiating table. This time, some talking has been done. Resumption of air links along with rail links, people to people contact between two countries, and reviving cricket links between the two countries have been some of the positive outcome of those talks. Finally the ice has thawed and relations between the two nuclear countries are improving and a possible nuclear war will be averted. The world believes that things may be getting better for India and Pakistan. But what about Kashmir, which continues to be a core issue between the two countries? Has the confidence of Kashmiris been resumed ? Have they been brought to the table? Have their aspirations been taken care of? Human rights violations continue to be a momentous issue confronting the Kashmiris. Disappearance is even more of a grave issue with adverse psychological implications as the relatives live in uncertainty not knowing whether to mourn for their dead or pray for their survival. The APDP reiterates its demand time and again the appointment of a commission to probe all disappearances, which they believe are 8, 000 to 10,000 and punishment to the culprits.
In June 2003, the most senior minister in Mufti's cabinet, Muzzafar Hussain Beig admitted before the state assembly that 3,931 persons had disappeared since 1990. Although APDP believes that the number is much higher, they would hope and pray that the number furnished by the government be the actual ones, but in their hearts they know it is not so.
Hearts cannot be won over by subjecting a suppressed people into more subjugation. Disappearance is a horrendous crime against humanity and its perpetrators should be justly dealt with. The people in Kashmir cry for 'Healing touch,' but not in the form of custodial killing of Farooq or enforced disappearance of Manzoor and Bashir, but healing touch in the literal meaning of the word.