Also known as the Iron Lady of Kashmir, Parveena Ahangar is a globally recognised Kashmiri human-rights activist who is also the leader and co-founder of the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP), a United Nations-backed organisation. A nominee of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2015 and the recipient of Norway’s Rafto Prize in 2017 (among many other accolades), Ahangar’s activism has inspired many and continues to do so.
Early Beginnings: The Abduction
In a lecture that Parveena Ahangar delivered at the 2017 Rafto Conference at Bergen, Norway, she recounted the trials and tribulations that both surrounded her life and concomitantly informed her activism. On August 18, 1990, Ahangar’s son, Javed Ahmed Ahangar was abducted by the Indian army and consequently disappeared. He was a Class 11 student at that time. Overtaken with grief, saddened and in a frenzy, she looked long and hard for her son, but of no avail. She took the legal route and filed various petitions, but that didn’t help either.
She describes herself as ‘illiterate’ and someone who had never ‘stepped far from the house’, yet her desire to be reunited with her son and fight for justice led her to places and people she would otherwise never had met. Over the course of her search, she realised that she wasn’t alone. State-sponsored enforced disappearances are common in Kashmir, and so, she along with Parvez Imroz founded APDP in 1994 with the goal of mobilising other families and helping them reunite with their lost kith and kin.
Human Rights violations in Kashmir are widely documented. In one in-depth peer-reviewed study, Lubna Mohiuddin (1997) observed that despite no formal declaration of a state of emergency, the presence of police troops in the region, which was 150,000 in 1990 shot up to 700,000 by 1997. Although Article 19 of the Indian Constitution, which not only defines the right to freedom but also explicates seven types of them are applicable to the State of Jammu and Kashmir, these rights are subject to restriction in the name of ‘Security of the State’. Despite being a signatory of multiple international covenants, charters and declarations, violence in Kashmir continues to occur in the form of extra-judicial killings, arbitrary arrests, tortures, burning of houses, and gang-rapes. All of this has been well and widely documented by various human rights groups.
Under Parveena’s leadership, APDP holds multiple sit-in protests, most of which are met with heavy police crackdown. As state repression against these protests intensified over the years, so did Parveena’s spirit. More and more people joined the APDP. While her husband and family, fearing for her life, told her to stop protesting, Ahangar refused to budge. The loss of her son was too great a burden to bear at home without fighting.
“I told my husband to run the home – and I would search for my son and fight,” said Parveena Ahangar.
On the Abrogation of Article 370
APDP released a comprehensive report (called 120 days: 5th August to 5th December) following the abrogation of Article 370 that shed light on the impact of the abrogation on various human development indices in Kashmir, such as access to healthcare, the situation of human rights, access to education and religious freedom (to name just a few). Overall, the situation is very grim, with the media blackout playing a terrifying role in unilaterally silencing all voices of dissent and free expression. “The Kashmir valley is presently going through one of the worst forms of State authoritarianism and high handedness”, the report says. “The Indian Government has continuously asserted that ‘normalcy’ has been returned to Kashmir. But, the testimonies and ground level reports indicate the contrary, as there are still severe restrictions and curtailment of basic human rights of the residents of the Kashmir valley.”
The Way Forward
According to its August 30, 2018 Press Release, APDP (of which Ahangar remains the chairperson today) has been demanding the ratification of the International Convention for Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances. Such ratification, APDP believes, will help to expose the circumstances in which such crimes are perpetrated and will make more evident the multiple rights that are being violated. But beyond legalities, Parveena also hopes that the international community rise to the occasion and listen to the stories of people like her, who have been silenced, marginalised, and dehumanised by the Indian state.
As Mathur (2016) points out, the discovery of thousands of unmarked mass graves in various districts of Kashmir since 2007 added another layer of trauma to the families’ experience, because it signified both proofs of crimes being committed as well as the state’s complicity in them. Despite these difficulties, Parveena remains fortitudinous. In a recent Opinion piece for The Guardian, she said:
“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 Javed would return today, I would say no. First bring back the disappeared sons and husbands of other Kashmiris. Bring Javed last.”
As we celebrate International Women’s day this year, it is imperative that we not just salute, but also recognise the twin dispositions of perseverance and valour that people like Parveena Ahangar so poignantly exemplify. Her story is a powerful narration of violence, loss, pain, fear, and hope. And while we all wish that Javed be swiftly reunited with his mother, we also hope that more people take stock of this story and amplify the voices of the thousands of other families, who are also looking for their loved ones.
“I have been fighting for 27 years,” says Parveena, “fight with me in whatever way you can. Kashmir is beautiful, but it is full of pain and grief. With this pain and grief in our hearts, we fight for justice.”
Featured Image Source: Youth Ki Awaaz