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FEATURE

Kashmiris Launch Calendar To


Remember Disappeared Loves Ones
At least 8,000 people have disappeared since 1989 according to
human rights groups, leaving relatives in no-man's land.
By Rifat Fareed, Al Jazeera

27 January 2019

Safiya Azad, 43, dreads forgetting her husband. She doesn't know whether he is dead or alive.

Every day, for the past 26 years, she has tried to remember him.

On a Spring afternoon in April 1993, Humayun Azad, a businessman, disappeared after he was
picked up by Indian paramilitary forces a kilometre away from his home in Indian-administered
Kashmir's main city of Srinagar.

Under the banner of the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP), on January 15,
Safiya and a group of other Kashmiris whose relatives have disappeared launched a calendar
with sketches and stories of their missing family members.
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Kashmiris Launch Calendar To Remember Disappeared Loves Ones

Parveena Ahanger, now 65, started the APDP when her son disappeared in the early 1990s.

"This is a unique way for them to keep remembering and looking for their family members as
they await their return," she told Al Jazeera.

"The dead dies, he has a grave. The disappeared, they do not let us mourn properly. They ache
in us every moment," she added, through tears.

The calendar features 12 disappeared people - one for each month. A blood stain marks the day
of their disappearance.

Among the disappeared are a student, farmer, labourer, tailor and a driver.

“I even saved a half-burned cigarette that he had smoked on the morning of his
disappearance. Until a few years ago, his clothes remained hanging in the wardrobe.”

SAFIYA AZAD, WIFE OF BUSINESSMAN HUMAYUN AZAD

The case of Humayun Azad, a broad-faced man with a thin moustache, is highlighted in April.

Next to his sketch are the words: "I buried you, again and again, in my heart once, in my soul
twice and in my memory every once in a while."

According to Suhail Naqshbandi, the artist who sketched the men, "it was an emotional
experience."

He told Al Jazeera: "The pictures were very small and blurry. And the existence of these young
[men] seems to be blurry too. I had to imagine and guess the details. You do not know what has
happened to this man."

Human rights groups say at least 8,000 have disappeared since 1989.

Some were picked up by paramilitary forces, according to witnesses, and others simply left their
homes and never returned.

Most disappearances, the rights groups say, took place in the 1990s and early 2000s, when the
armed-conflict was at its peak in the restive region.

People like Safiya have been seeking answers for more than two decades.

"I was 16 when I got married to him. He was 24," she said.
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Kashmiris Launch Calendar To Remember Disappeared Loves Ones

Their son, Dawood Ahmad, was six months old when Humayan was last seen.

"From police stations to jails … I looked for him everywhere," she said.

She now lives at her in-laws' home in Srinagar.

"It might have happened 20 years ago or more. It might not be a story for people to hear any
more. But for me, everything is so fresh in my memory."

'Half-widows'

A "half-widow", a term specifically for women whose husbands have disappeared, Safiya was
married for two years before Humayan went missing.

On that day, a neighbour told Safiya that her partner had been taken away.

"After that, we never saw him."

She clung to hope when some prisoners said they saw her husband in an infamous
interrogation centre in Srinagar known as Papa 1.

The centre had been used to extract information from rebels in the 1990s when the armed
rebellion against Indian rule began in the disputed territory.
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Kashmiris Launch Calendar To Remember Disappeared Loves Ones

"It elevated my hope that he was alive. I went to the torture centre every day. I sat there from
morning to evening. I would take grapes for him or something else and hand it over to the
security guards at the gate to give him. But I never got a glimpse of him," said Safiya.

Once, she sent him a packed suitcase.

"I sent him clothes, toothpaste, soap, a towel, slippers. He was fond of chewing gum and I sent
a pack of chewing gum too," she said, "but I do not know whether it reached him."

She claimed that a legal case she filed offered no results, so she joined APDP.

Every 10th day of the month, relatives of the disappeared hold a sit-in protest, demanding the
whereabouts of their loved ones.

"Until 2000, I would get a message from someone, saying that they saw him in the torture
centre. Then the messages suddenly stopped," said Safiya.

Despondent, she wrote poetry and letters to her husband.

"I lost all of my writing when the flood hit Kashmir in 2014. I even saved a half-burned cigarette
that he had smoked on the morning of his disappearance. Until a few years ago, his clothes
remained hanging in the wardrobe. With me, everything at home waited for him," she said.

Safiya worked at a nursery, which provided income and an education for their son, who is now
in his twenties.

"In all these years and today, I still have only hope that [Humayun] is alive and will return.

"I have kept my son away from this struggle because it consumes a person."

“Whenever there is a knock on the door. I feel it's him.”

SAFIYA AZAD, WIFE OF BUSINESSMAN HUMAYUN AZAD

Khurram Parvez, a Kashmir-based human rights activist and chairman of the Asian Federation
Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFID), blamed the government for inaction.

"Cases linger," he said. "In many cases, the perpetrators have also been identified but no justice
has been delivered."
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Kashmiris Launch Calendar To Remember Disappeared Loves Ones

But Vijay Kumar, adviser to the governor of Jammu and Kashmir state, told Al Jazeera: "There is
a proper system in place in the administration if someone has a complaint or asks for an
inquiry.

"There are always set mechanisms in the government of India and other places to monitor
some of these cases. Many cases have been enquired."

In June last year, the United Nations, in its first-ever human rights report on Kashmir, said:
"There is also almost total impunity for enforced or involuntary disappearances, with little
movement towards credibly investigating complaints, including into alleged sites of mass graves
in the Kashmir Valley and Jammu region."

While families face a long legal struggle, Safiya said the more challenging battle is emotional.

"Whenever there is a knock on the door," she said, "I feel it's him."

All rights reserved by the publisher. Disseminated in public interest.


Feature Link: bit.ly/2DKSdRN
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Our goal: We focus on the Kashmiri people's


right to education, healthcare, and the right to
legal representation. Our mission is to forge
relationships to peacefully resolve the oldest
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