Parveena Ahangar has been the voice of the "disappeared" for over a decade. When her son was abducted by the army in Kashmir, she promptly formed the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons.
Parveena Ahangar (about 48 years old) is an ordinary housewife from a lower-middleclass family, with little education. She might have remained just that had her young son Javed Ahmed Ahangar not "disappeared'". He was abducted by three Indian Army officers from outside his house when he had just returned from school. Instead of being a helpless victim, like other women in her situation, Parveena openly demanded information on her son's whereabouts.
Later, she formed an association of parents whose children had become victims of "enforced disappearances". The Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) has relentlessly been demanding information on disappearances during the 16 years of conflict in Jammu and Kashmir, bringing together nearly 450 families. Thanks to its efforts, the government has finally acknowledged that people have actually "vanished", although its estimates are far lower than those made by civil society groups.
Parveena has been the voice of the disappeared for over a decade. She relies heavily on her advocacy work. She visits the relatives of the disappeared, and helps them work out strategies for action and peaceful forms of agitation. There are regular meetings of the members of the Association, and public demonstrations once a month, with innovative forms of action, including the use of masks. Parveena also provides counseling to traumatized women by visiting families of the disappeared in other districts, holding regular meetings with them, giving her own example, and extending solidarity and advice.
Parveena formed her organization in 1994, at a time when the phenomenon of disappearances was peaking, and the formation of such an association was fraught with danger. Parveena persuaded the families of the disappeared, mostly uneducated people, to persist in demanding information on their relatives, and to not let them be forgotten. Her actions were extremely timely, since the scale of enforced disappearances in Kashmir had grown massively after 1989, following the outbreak of armed conflict in the Kashmir Valley.
The heavy deployment of security forces - more than 600,000, the highest number of troops during peacetime anywhere in the world - to combat the armed separatist struggle had led to young men being picked up for questioning and subjected to human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings, custodial torture, and forced labor.
Thanks to Parveena's work, the issue of disappearances in Kashmir has been highlighted regionally, nationally, and internationally. She has traveled extensively in India and abroad to draw attention to this issue. She visited Jakarta twice as a member of the Asian Federation of the Association of the Disappeared. It was as a result of her campaign that the State has acknowledged the fact of "enforced disappearances" and promised to end them. The practice persists, but less rampantly.
Some members of the APDP have been killed for their doggedness. During one demonstration in Srinagar in 1998-99, firing by security forces led to a prominent woman APDP member being killed on the spot. Her work has inspired previously-recalcitrant families to come forward.
Parveena's husband works in an automobile workshop. She has two sons - one of them very active in the APDP - and a daughter who is now in college and plans to replicate her mother's struggle. Parveena still has no information about Javed. But she is not reconciled to his loss: he would have been 29 years old, and she is waiting for him to come home.
Parveena Ahangar is an ordinary housewife from a lower-middle-class family whose young son "disappeared" after being abducted by three army officers from outside his house when he had just returned from school. Parveena brazenly demanded information on his whereabouts, and later formed an association of parents whose children had become victims of "enforced disappearances". The APDP is tenacious in demanding information on disappearances during the 16 years of conflict in Jammu and Kashmir. The organization, which brings together nearly 450 such families, finally forced the government to acknowledge that almost 4000 people have disappeared, although its numbers are disputed by civil society groups.
Parveena relies on advocacy, visiting the relatives of the disappeared, helping them work out strategies for action and peaceful forms of agitation. She also provides counseling to traumatized women by holding regular meetings with them. She formed the APDP in 1994, when disappearances were peaking, and the existence of such a watchdog body was chancy. Parveena persuaded the families of the disappeared, mostly uneducated people, to persist in demanding information. Her actions were timely, since the rate of enforced disappearances in Kashmir grew exponentially after the 1989 outbreak of armed conflict in the valley. Parveena's work was fraught with risks. At a demonstration in Srinagar in 1998, the security forces shot dead a prominent woman APDP member on the spot.
Parveena still has no information about her son's fate. She is not reconciled to his loss, demanding accountability through her movement and the courts.
Many students, civilians, political activists, and militants have "disappeared" in custody during the 16 years of armed separatist struggle in Kashmir-3931 people, by the government's (disputed) estimates. The true statistics could be closer to 8000 to 10,000.
Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP)
South Asia | India