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Torture, custodial deaths, extrajudicial executions in Kashmir worry rights groups

New Delhi: Continuing cases of torture in police and security forces custody, “disappearance” of victims from such custody, and extrajudicial executions in Kashmir are a constant source of worry for rights groups.

Government sources say 3,185 people have disappeared since 1990, while rights groups put the figure around at 5000. Most people reported missing after police or security forces took them under their custody. Victims’ families did not get any concrete answera bout their whereabouts from the agencies which picked them up. Every year members of Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) gather to mark the disappearance of their children and loved ones on International Day of the Disappeared, August 30, in Srinagar, state capital of Jammu and Kashmir.

This year they got a long letter from Amnesty International affirming solidarity with people whose basic human rights have been violated by the state. The APDP, like yesteryears, demanded on the occasion that the fate of the missing persons be made public.

Close relatives of the disappeared persons pledged to continue their search till they either returned or were declared dead by the state. The impunity of police and denial of due process to victims is disturbing to rights activists. The disappeared people were from all ages — as young as eight years and as old as 70 — and from a diversity of professions.

In its communication to former state chief secretary Ashok Jaitley, Amnesty expressed concern over the “high level of disappearances and impunity that continues in Kashmir.” Amnesty called on "the government of Jammu and Kashmir to put an end to the disappearance, to ensure that all cases of disappearances are impartially investigated, that those found responsible for the crimes are brought to justice, and that adequate compensation is paid to “the families of the disappeared persons". Hundreds of habeas corpus petitions have been filed by victims’ families with the courts in Jammu and Kashmir, but hardly any of them have been resolved. Amnesty said in 2000 "the National Human Rights Commission requested from the APDP a list of all the disappearance cases known to the organisation. The APDP duly submitted this information, but to date has heard nothing in response". The human rights situation in Kashmir shows no signs of improving. "Despite both state and Union authorities being obligated under international law to undertake independent and impartial investigations into human rights abuses, no official enquiry has been ordered by the authorities into the role of security and police forces in disappearances. The whereabouts of those who disappeared have not been established and none of those who perpetrated these crimes have been brought to justice", the Amnesty letter said.

The international Day of the Disappeared is an occasion for the affected families to come together in a gesture of solidarity. The day is marked by moving scenes of orphaned children and young widows carrying placards and asking for justice from a state that has virtually been numbed. The bereaved often break down narrating their woes to media, rights people and sympathisers. 

The affected families say they would reconcile to their loss once the government tells them what happened to their kins taken in custody by police or security forces. Mothers, wives and children of the disappeared have been waiting for their dear ones for as long as ten years. "The suspense is devastating", says a human rights activist.

Marking the occasion, a Kashmiri journalist Zahiruddin released a book in Srinagar, Did They Vanish In Thin Air? The book carries details of 140 cases of custodial disappearances in the valley. Although such disappearances have become routine in Kashmir, sobs and sighs of victims’ kinsfolk marked the release of the book.

The deep wounds that these disappearances symoblise would take years to heal.

¯ MG Correspondent

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