Thursday, February 08, 2007

Families of the disappeared

Yesterday marked the second day here in Srinagar of the hunger strike of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKFL) chairman Yasin Malik, and a sit-in protest against extrajudicial executions and disappearances by Indian security forces. Since the beginning of the conflict here in Kashmir in 1990, an estimated eight thousand people have been “disappeared,” some of them later found buried in unmarked graves far from home, falsely labeled as foreign militants. The draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act, first enacted in 1990 and still in effect, authorizes the state government, governor, or Indian government to declare any part of the state to be a “disturbed area” and empowers the armed forces to “for the maintenance of public order, giving such due warning as he may consider necessary, fire upon or otherwise use force, even to the causing of death, against any person who is acting in contravention of any law or order for the time being in force in the disturbed area prohibiting the assembly of five or more persons or the carrying of weapons or of things capable as being used as weapons or of firearms, ammunition or explosive substances.”

Underneath a tent in the Lal Chowk neighborhood, festooned with images of the dead and greeting passerby with flowing Urdu script reading “Allah loveth not the shouting of evil words in public speech except by one who has been wronged for Allah is he who heareth and knoweth all things,” Malik, once a violent rebel who turned into a Ghandian non-violent leader in 1995, lay on a blanket, his lips chapped, and weakly recounted to me why he had initiated his three-day strike and why dozens of members of the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons had gathered in the tent, as well. In addition to those I met in the village of Ganderbal and elsewhere, the number of people I have met in Kashmir missing family members or friends now numbers about 50, and that is just from a casual visit. Malik, who ends his hunger strike today, has vowed that, if the human rights situation in Kashmir does not improve within 45 days, to fast unto death in protest.

These faces were among those searching for their loved ones.

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