Ghost of Impunity Remains as Kashmir Sees First Funeral in Absentia

Posted: January 21, 2016 in Armed Forces Special Power Act, Conflict and Peace, Draconian Laws, Human Rights, Uncategorized, Violence against Women

Manzoor Ahmed Dar disappeared after being picked up by the army in Srinagar in 2002. On Tuesday, his family performed his last rites, vowing to continue their struggle for justice.

Jana, widow of Manzoor in tears. Credit: Sameer Mushtaq

Srinagar: Bilquees was 14 when her father, Manzoor Ahmad Dar, a chemist, disappeared after being picked up by the Army from the Rawalpora locality in Srinagar in January 2002.In the months that followed, Manzoor became another entry in the long list of Kashmiris who had gone missing from the Valley since 1989, when the current insurgency began.

On Tuesday, exactly 14 years after his disappearance, Bilquees brought an end to the long wait for her father’s return by organising his funeral prayers in absentia outside her home.

The event was an emotional one, with men and women struggling to control their tears. A large number of people from different parts of the Valley attended the funeral, including JKLF chairman Yasin Malik and Peer Saifullah, a close aide of the separatist Hurriyat leader, Syed Ali Shah Geelani.

Amidst a complete shutdown in the area, the funeral prayers, without Manzoor’s body, were held in the lawns of a government school. Bilquees, her two brothers, sister and their mother Jana, watched from a distance as the police laid siege around the school, restricting traffic movement.

This was the first funeral of its kind in Kashmir where the family of a disappeared man gave up hope of the victim’s survival and elected to perform his last rites.

In the case of Manzoor, what proved decisive was the police investigation, which pointed to his having been killed in Army custody.

“It wasn’t an easy decision for us,” Bilquees, now a mother herself, told The Wire. “For years together, we thought papa will return… We have suffered enormously. But today I am feeling satisfied that I did something that will put to rest my papa’s soul.”

After a long pause, she broke down. “The funeral is not an end to our struggle. I will keep fighting till I get justice,” she said amid sobs.

Police investigation and ‘army’s role’

Manzoor, who was 34 at the time of his disappearance, was picked up by the Rashtriya Rifles along with two other men on the night of January 18/19 in 2002.

While the two other persons were released the next day, Manzoor never came back from custody.

After days of protests, the police filed a case of abduction against the army and as the investigation went ahead, the name of Major Kishore Malhotra of Rashtriya Rifles, surfaced as an accused.

The case, which took different twists during the past 14 years, hogged the headlines when on November 26 last year the J&K police’s Special Investigation Team (SIT) probing the incident concluded that Manzoor “could have died in custody of Army’s 35 Rashtriya Rifles led by Major Kishore Malhotra after he was abducted from his residence and his body could have been disposed of”.

In its report, the SIT invoked section 302 (murder) of the Ranbir Penal Code against the officer.

“After offence of abduction under section 364 RPC was established against the accused, our efforts to trace the abducted person did not materialize as there was no clue of the youth (Manzoor),” reads the SIT report.

The case however took a new turn when Malhotra, now a brigadier in the army, went to the Supreme Court against the J&K High Court direction which had asked the police to arrest him.

The apex court stayed his arrest but asked him to cooperate with the SIT.

“During custodial questioning, he did not admit the custody of the victim nor did he make disclosures which could lead to victim’s recovery, which clearly indicates that the accused could have disposed of the body, so offence under 201 RPC is invoked,” the status report said.

The case was listed before the registry of the Supreme Court on Tuesday.

Counsel for the victim’s family, Shadan Farasat said the state government – the respondent in the case – has filed its response seeking custody of the brigadier for “proper investigation”.

The long struggle

In the crowd of women who had come out to join the protests seeking justice for the family, Manzoor’s widow, Jana sat on the road inconsolable.

Till Tuesday afternoon, Jana lived 14 years of her life as a “half-widow” – a tag associated with Kashmiri women whose husbands have disappeared in the vortex of insurgency and counter-insurgency over the past 25 years, never to return.

Bilquees, daughter of Manzoor, leading sit-in protests. Credit: Sameer Mushtaq

With the family deciding to end their wait for Manzoor, Jana knew the time had come to make the transition from half- to full widow.“Our life has been a tragic tale of sufferings all these year,” she said, wailing as women from the neighborhood struggled to console her. “That army officer should be hanged. It will be justice to my family.”

A graduate in finance, Bilquees started the search for her father soon after his disappearance.

On the 10th of every month till some years back, she would hold the picture of her father and join the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) sit-in at Lal Chowk in the heart of Srinagar.

“I will continue with my battle till he (Malhotra) is sent behind bars,” Bilquees said, responding to slogans for justice by a group of women.

Won’t impact other cases

Human right groups and the relatives of persons who have gone missing in Kashmir said the funeral prayers of Manzoor would not have any impact on other cases of disappearances in the Valley.

While various rights groups claim around 8,000 Kashmiri men have been “subjected to custodial disappearance”, the J&K government told the state assembly in 2014 that the number of persons missing is 4,000.

Chairperson of her faction of APDP, Parveena Ahanger, whose 15-year-old son disappeared in 1990, said they would continue with their fight to seek the whereabouts of the missing persons.

Her son, Javaid Ahmad Ahanger, was allegedly picked up by security forces in August 1990, a few days after he had passed his 10th standard examination.

“We will continue our fight… We will not let our fight go to waste. There are thousands of half- widows who continue to wait for the return of their husbands,” Ahanger, seen as face of the battle against custodial disappearances in Kashmir, told The Wire.


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