When my son Yasir went to fetch bread in the morning and didn’t return promptly, I started pacing with worry outside the house. What if the security forces manning every corner had roughed him up, or even worse? My fear is the fear of every single person living in shock in Kashmir and wondering “What next?” Eventually he returned, explaining that the delay was due to long queues at the only bakery open in the entire area. But unlike Yasir, my son Javaid has never returned.
Nothing can make you used to the terror of nocturnal raids by security forces. It was 18 August 1990, and we were living in Srinagar, at the height of an uprising against the Indian occupation. In the early hours of the morning, a neighbour came to tell us that my son Javaid, only 16 years old, had been taken away by the National Security Guard – one of many paramilitary forces operated by the Indian government in the valley. At first I wasn’t fearful, as I knew this was a case of mistaken identity. My son had never quarrelled with anyone, let alone been part of any armed uprising.
As the day passed, my anxiety increased as efforts to trace him failed. I ran from one police station to another, from one known torture centre to another detention camp to be told, “Do not worry, he will be released”. He did not return.
From 1997 until today, Javaid’s file, along with those of all Kashmiri victims of armed forces in the India-administered region, has remained secret. Not a single permission has been granted by the central government to prosecute any official facing allegations of grave human rights abuses.
They threatened me, they tried to buy me, they suggested I was a bad mother for neglecting my other children and for taking my infant daughter with me to wait endlessly in front of police stations and the courts, they spread rumours about my motives, they harassed me, they raised false charges against me – they wanted me to give up. But I never stopped asking “Where is my son?”
Between 8,000 and 10,000 Kashmiris have been victims of enforced disappearance. I was never a political person but the fire of my own suffering and the anguish of other parents prompted me to start the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP). I started visiting the families of the disappeared in every part of Kashmir to listen, offer support and encourage action.
Ours is not a conventional organisation of activists but a community of sufferers who share pain, support each other and live with hope that our disappeared children will be returned. From informal gatherings to hunger strikes in public, from vigils in parks to seminars at educational institutions in both Kashmir and India and visits to universities and the UN, we are seeking the answer to our questions – Where have you taken our sons? Where are our husbands?
I am not a leader, I am a sufferer. I will not give up the hope of seeing my son, who has been disappeared for 29 years. But this is not my struggle alone. If the government assured me that Javaid would return today, I would say no. First bring back the disappeared sons and husbands of other Kashmiris. Bring Javaid last.