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'Half-widows' suffer in silence; unsung people in unmarked graves yet to identify
Forty-year-old Haleema Begum was once a proud and happy homemaker, but now she lives on the support of her parents and neighbours. Haleema became a half-widow 12 years ago when her husband, Mushtaq Ahmad Bhat, was abducted by gunmen. Half-widow is a term used to describe the women whose husbands are missing in Jammu and Kashmir.
According to the Association of Parents of Disappeared People (APDP), more than 8,000 people have gone missing in J&K during the last two decades of turmoil.  “One morning he left home to drop tiffin box at his brother’s shop. But he never returned. He was abducted by masked gunmen and taken to unknown place. For 12 years we have been going from pillar to post but to no avail,” Haleema told .


Tragedy struck again for Haleema when her son fell from a tree some years later. “We could not afford Rs25,000 for his surgery and that is why his arm has been permanently dislocated. We have no means of livelihood. My husband had surrendered and joined police as an SPO. He was the breadwinner. Now we are living on the support of my parents and villagers,” she added.


Similar is the story of Riyaz Ahmad Mir, who has not given up his fight for justice for his father Ghulam Mohammad Mir, a government employee. Mir was picked up from his home by the security forces 16 years ago. “We have filed a case. Insha Allaha we hope justice will be done,” said Riyaz.


On the International Day of Disappeared (August 30), human rights activists have demanded naming and shaming of those responsible for the disappearance of people. “The institutional culture of institutional culpability and impunity has resulted in enforced and involuntary disappearance of at least 8,000 persons. This is a crime against humanity. The government of the day is also complicit in this  crime against humanity,”  Khurram Parvez, Programme Coordinator, J&K Coalition of Civil Society.


“Almost 7,000 unmarked graves have been discovered in five districts so far. But the government is not willing to conduct DNA test of the bodies. Therefore on this day we not only want to show solidarity with victims but also press for justice to these victims,” Khurram added.


MENWHILE the country's most unquiet graves were found in the troubletorn north of Kashmir. There were more than 3,000 unfortunate people buried in 38 unmarked graves, but only 574 bodies have so far been exhumed and identified. And each one of them has a story to tell.


These were people who just vanished from the face of earth. On Monday, families of hundreds of such "disappeared" or missing people held a demonstration in Srinagar asking the government to do DNA profiling of the bodies in the unmarked and unidentified graves across Jammu and Kashmir.


A north Kashmir district police report acknowledges the presence of 464 unidentified people in unmarked graves. This includes nine unidentified bodies recovered from Jhelum. One such missing person was a mason - Manzoor Ahmad Mir of Delina village in north Kashmir's Baramulla district. His 42-year-old wife Hasina Bano recounted how an army patrol barged into their home and picked up Mir in September 2003. Since then, he has not returned.


The patrol party, led by Major Atul Sharma, had 'government gunmen' Muhammad Yousuf Mir and Manzoor Ahmad. The army subsequently denied his arrest. In 2006, then deputy chief minister Muzaffer Hussain Baig visited Delina and announced the construction of a hospital there. On July 7 that year, the villagers pressed an earth-mover to prepare the site - hardly 300 metres from an army camp - for building the hospital.


As the mounds cleared, they found bones and a skull buried three-feet deep. Barely 10 metres away, another skeleton popped out.


A quick-thinking villager sent some boys to fetch Bashir Ahmad Mir, Hasina's brother-in-law. "It was the skull of my brother. The filling in his tooth cleared all doubts," Bashir said.


Twenty days later, Bashir, his father and his mother gave their blood samples for a DNA match. But the report has yet to reach the family. 'The authorities refuse to give us the DNA test result," Bashir said.


The police filed a chargesheet in the case, but Major Sharma has not been prosecuted. The two 'government gunmen" were the only persons facing trial. 'Moreover, the central government has not approved prosecution of the Major," Bashir's lawyer said.


The "vanishing acts" in Kashmir Valley began in 1990 - allegedly a tacit and vicious drive to quell the armed insurgency that had engulfed the state. Human rights activists say security agencies would arrest people during crackdowns and search operations (sometimes even during routine frisking on highways), and later deny these arrests.


Soldiers of 18 Rajputana Rifles raided a bakery in Srinagar and picked up 23-year-old Farooq Ahmad Khan along with his employer Bashir Ahmad on August 24, 2003. Ahmad was freed the next day and Khan's photo appeared in an Urdu newspaper on October 20.


The caption said that a foreign militant who had stormed an army camp at Nishat in Srinagar was killed during an encounter. His 60-year-old father, Wali Muhammad, rubbed his eyes in disbelief at their home in Devar, Kupwara. The 'foreign militant" was his son and he had gone to Srinagar looking for a job.


Muhammad moved the high court, which heard his case and ordered the authorities to exhume the body from a grave at Alloochbagh in the Civil Lines area of Srinagar. Subsequently, a DNA test was conducted on April 11, 2005. But, like in almost all cases, the test result has not been told to the family.


Thankfully, Muhammad was lucky enough to identify his son's body. Others were not. Abdul Rahim Lone, 70, of Tujar Sharief Sopore said his 20-year-old son Muhammad Shafi Lone disappeared in 2001. "I looked for him everywhere. Every security agency denied his arrest," he said.


The state human rights commission, rattling out figures of 2,730 people buried in 38 unmarked graves, said 574 corpses have been identified by families - who painstakingly visited graveyards one after the other and talked to gravediggers and other witnesses during burials.


Some were identified through pictures published in newspapers - mostly dubbed "foreign militants" and buried in unmarked graves. But such identifications were few and far between.


Javed Ahmad Ahangar, then a 17-year-old student, was picked up in the Batmaloo area of Srinagar on August 18 night in 1990. His mother, Parveena Ahangar, searched for him for six months and finally she approached the high court.


"During my hunt, I found 63 other missing cases. All the affected families formed the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP). We protested and held sitins for justice," she said.


To calm frayed nerves, the government announced compensation to the next of kin of 'missing" persons and those whose bodies were not identified. In August 2003, the state assembly for the first time accepted that 3,931 people have disappeared and 144 were killed in custody. But public anger reached its peak as such "forced disappearances" continued.


After the 2005 killer earthquake in Kashmir, volunteers stumbled upon several unmarked graves in the high-security Uri area of Baramulla district. Pervez Imroz, a lawyer and human rights activist, saw those graves while helping out for the earthquake rescue at Boniyar village in Uri. Like many others, he too has been fighting to get those unsung people identified.
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