Parveena Jahengir last saw her son 25 years ago. That’s when he was picked up by Indian security forces from their home one winter’s night.
Suspected to be a part of anti-Indian insurgency groups in Indian-administered Kashmir, he was taken to an unknown location. He was 17 years old. And she’s never heard from him again.
Parveena is among the hundreds of thousands of Kashmiris who’ve lost their sons, daughters, fathers and brothers to an often violent – and much questioned – conflict. Their questions to their government are mostly met with silence.
Torture: An open secret
So, when the latest WikiLeaks cables revealed that Kashmiris have been routinely detained, tortured and systematically abused by Indian forces, that didn’t really surprise many here. Nor even that electric shocks, severe physical beatings and detainee’s legs were crushed by iron boards to elicit “confessions”.
For years, human rights activists have been crying hoarse over illegal detentions and enforced “disappearances”, a euphuism for extrajudicial killings. But the government of the day rarely does much to show any accountability.
We ourselves went to the Machil sector of Kashmir as recent as March of this year. There, we met with the families of Mohamad Shafi, Shehzad Ahmed, and Riyaz Ahmed. They told us how the young men were lured with the promise of an army job- but were instead branded “militants” and killed close to the border with Pakistan. An army enquiry later suspended a colonel and a major.
Free rein for Indian forces
One of the reasons why abuse is so common in Kashmir is because of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which basically gives the Indian army sweeping powers in troubled regions like Jammu and Kashmir.
It effectively gives the Indian army the right to detain, interrogate and arrest anybody whom they suspect having links with anti-Indian groups.
But there’s been much opposition to this law. And a growing demand from different groups that it be amended or removed.
While WikiLeaks may have helped reveal some parts of ordinary Kashmiri’s lives, the real question is – will it change them?
And while different groups in this country debate this, Parveena will only have her memories of 25 years ago to live with.
See Prerna Suri’s report on the plight of Kashimir refugees living in temporary camps in Jammu.