‘Being chosen for Rafto Prize shows the global community is becoming aware of our plight’

  • Nayeem Rather
  • Publish Date: Oct 12 2017 10:09PM
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  • Updated Date: Oct 12 2017 10:09PM
‘Being chosen for Rafto Prize shows the global community is becoming aware of our plight’

Parveena Ahanger, chairperson of the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons, has won this year’s Rafto Prize for “her long campaign to expose human right violations” in Kashmir. The award will be presented to her and the joint winner, human rights lawyer Parvez Imroz, on November 5 in Bergen, Norway.

The award, constituted in memory of the Norwegian human rights activist Prof  Thorolf Rafto, is given by the Rafto Foundation, a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to promoting human rights around the world.

Parveena founded the APDP in 1994, four years after her 17-year-old son Javaid Ahmed Ahanger disappeared in military’s custody. In Jammu and Kashmir, 8,000-10,000 people have been subjected to enforced disappearance, mostly by the Indian military, since the armed rebellion against Indian rule broke out in the late 1980s. No culprit has ever been brought to justice for an enforced disappearance largely because the armed forces enjoy impunity under laws such as the Armed Forces Special Powers Act.

Parveena speaks to Ink about the award and her work that earned it. 

 

Excerpts:

 

How does it feel winning the Rafto Prize?

It is an honor. It is a great moment for all of us associated with the APDP. It also means that our cause is getting international attention and that the global community is becoming aware of our plight.

 

Do you think this prize will have any effect on the cause you have fighting for so long?

I think it will help bring more international attention to the issue of enforced disappearance. It will help start a conversation in international forums about this issue, which is important. It will help build pressure on the Indian state to allow investigation into cases of enforcement disappointed. Also, by giving us this award, the global community recognises our cause.

 

You have been searching for your son for the last 27 years. Tell us about that quest?

Javaid was abducted by the army in 1990. I have been searching for him ever since. I have gone to every jail, every military camp, every police and every torture centre in Kashmir, and I have gone to many jails in India. But I haven’t found him so far. I have travelled bare feet, sometimes without having a proper meal for days together.

In the early 90s, as I was going around Kashmir searching for my son, I met mothers, fathers, wives who had met the same fate. I started bringing them together and in 1994, we formed the APDP -- in my kitchen. That’s how our movement began.

Since then, we have been protesting at various places, demanding our loved be returned. I have only ever asked one thing of the government: you took our sons and husbands, just tell us where you have kept them.

 

You have met many government officials, elected representatives and ministers to help get justice for the families of the forcibly disappeared. Did anything come of those meetings?

I approached many ministers and officials, police officers too. They all said we will give you justice. But they all just lie. The are only after their chairs. They don’t care about us, about the people. Even former chief minister Omar Abdullah promised us justice, but it was all a lie. I have no hope they will help us. And how can they? It is they who, along with the Indian state, are responsible for snatching our dear ones from us. What can we expect from the tyrants?

 

Do you still hope that your son will return?

All my hopes are pinned on Allah. I believe that my son will return and until he does or till I die, I will continue searching for him, waiting for him. I will continue to fight for justice. I will not forget.

 

Has the state ever pressured or intimidated you to stop your protests, your movement?

Yes, there was a pressure. They would also threaten. Initially, we protested outside the gate of the High Court but the police and the CRPF beat us and dragged us away. Then, we started protesting at other places but there too the forces would beat us. In fact, there is a case against me for indulging in anti-social activities.

But days went by, we didn’t care about the threats and continued on our path. The state has nothing to threaten us with. We only demand to know where they have you kept our dear ones. We will continue to ask that, again and again and again.

 

Do you have any hope of getting justice?

I do not have any hope from the state. All my hope is in Allah. But that does not mean I will stop fighting for justice. I will continue to fight on. This is a long fight and I am ready to fight it.

 

As a woman, how difficult was it for you to leave home and fight for justice?

It was very difficult. My children were young at that time and it was difficult to leave them home and go out to fight for our cause. My relatives were unhappy about my going out; they feared I would get killed. My husband too took issue with it, but I didn’t listen. I told everyone that I will not stop until I find my son.