The traumatic case of the ''missing'' in J&K
28 July 2001
SRINAGAR: The hundreds of persons who have ''disappeared'' while ''in custody'' in Jammu and Kashmir over the last 12 years are still untraced and their families are in distress The agencies, which made the arrests, deny any involvement and the conditional grant of ex gratia has only caused more heartburn . The issue came up for a wide-ranging discussion here on Saturday, when the Public Commission for Human Rights (PCHR) organised the release of the book ''Did they Vanish in Thin Air'' by Mr. Zahiruddin, associate editor of the local daily Greater Kashmir. The author has documented over 500 cases in the book and gives a detailed account of the incidents leading to the arrest of these persons. Expressing concern over the ''forced disappearances'', the senior Jamaat-e-Islami leader and former Hurriyat chairman, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, said it was one of the most horrible aspects of the Kashmir situation. ''The condition of the affected families is pathetic and needs attention.'' Mr. Nasir Mirza of the Media Education Research Centre said the media had an important role to play in highlighting the human rights issues. ''The human rights issues are more important than the ones which get all the attention,'' he said in an obvious reference to the recent Agra summit. ''Hundreds of persons between eight and 75 years of age have disappeared in the last decade after being arrested by various security agencies. So far over 2,500 cases have been listed but the number may exceed 4,000 as the phenomenon continues unabated,'' said Mr. Zahiruddin in the preface to the book. The phenomenon has assumed alarming proportions, particularly in the Kashmir Valley, despite the Government''s assurance that human rights will be respected, he says. ''There is a method to the whole thing. A person is arrested in full public view, the arresting agency assures the safe and early release of the arrested person. However, the release is never effected,'' he adds. Now the issue has led to another problem. In the absence of substantial proof, the missing persons cannot be declared dead. And in that case neither can the legal heirs inherit property nor can the woman whose husband is missing marry again. They have no option but to wait but, says Mr. Zahiruddin, ''the wait never ends''. The matter was discussed with the Muslim clergy, but they too were reluctant to issue a fatwa (ruling) for reasons unknown, says the author. The PCHR chairman, Mr. Pervez Imroz, in his foreword, says the phenomenon, unknown in the State before 1989, is now a major issue confronting human rights activists and society. The Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) has been campaigning for inquiring into the disappearances under the ''Commission of Inquiry Act'' but the State Government has not responded, he claims. Recently, the APDP laid the foundation for a memorial to be built in the memory of the disappeared persons, but the police moved in and removed the foundation stone. The Association has now decided to move court to implement its plan.