The report by the J&K State Human Rights Commission establishing the presence of unmarked graves in Kashmir holding 2,156 unidentified bodies has given a glimmer of hope to hundreds who have been grieving for their spouses, siblings, children and friends who have gone missing over the past two decades, without any news.
As their wait for a closure, one way or the other, may now be just a DNA test away, here are stories of some of them:
A knock on the door one cold night
It has been nine years but Bilquees Manzoor hasn’t forgotten that knock on the door of their house at Rawalpora on the cold night of January 18. “When we opened the door, we found soldiers waiting outside,” says the 26-year-old. “They pushed us aside and started searching the house. When they finally left, they took my father along.” Manzoor Ahmad Dar had returned from his chemist shop just hours before. Bilquees says she and her family tried to resist but were pushed aside. Then only 17, she began searching for her father, starting from the Army camp where the raiding party of soldiers was stationed. “He (Major Malhotra) told us that he has been picked up for questioning and would be released soon,” she says. Bilquees says it was Major Malhotra who led the soldiers who picked up her father.
Some time later, a probe was initiated into the custodial disappearance of Dar. On the basis of the inquiry, the Chief Judicial Magistrate, Srinagar, directed the Sadar Police Station to register a case against Major Malhotra and his men of 35 Rashtriya Rifles. But when they still got no news of Dar, the family approached the J&K High Court. On its directions, the DGP constituted a special team to investigate the case. The police sent several written communications to the Army and asked them to produce Major Malhotra and other accused soldiers before the inquiry officer. However, police say, there was no response from the Army. The accused Army officer was meanwhile shifted to Assam and promoted as Colonel with the Assam Regiment. More:
The Guardian’sTahmima Anam entered their secretive world:
I’ve navigated a series of dark lanes and tiny roads to get to the Rehmat Ali madrasa in the Tejgaon neighbourhood of Dhaka, passing shops selling car batteries, ceramic tiles, thread, water pipes, exotic birds, mutton and mosquito nets. The school is at the end of a narrow alley where the stench of open drains and rotten food is overpowering. I am here because I want to see for myself what madrasa education is all about, and because there is an inherent contradiction, it seems to me, in the existence of a girls’ madrasa. If madrasas are really the orthodox institutions they are portrayed as being, what kind of students does a women’s madrasa hope to produce?
More than any other institution, the madrasa has come to stand for the possible radicalisation of a country such as Bangladesh. Ever since independence from Pakistan in 1971, Bangladesh has struggled with its religious identity. While Islam has prevailed in this region for many centuries, its role in public life has always been contested. Over the years, debates have raged, in parliament and on the streets, about the role Islam should play in political and daily life. In a rapidly changing geopolitical landscape, Bangladesh has remained safe in western eyes, a “moderate” Muslim nation, though there are regular forecasts of the scales being tipped. The suicide bombs that rocked Bangladesh in late 2005, and the grassroots power of the organisation responsible, the Jamaatul Mujahideen, stirred up a palpable sense of anxiety within the country. In 2009, the discovery of a stash of arms at the Green Crescent Madrasa in Bhola, funded by British Bangladeshis, reignited fears of Bangladesh’s role in the global rise of militant Islam. At the centre of this debate are the 6 million Bangladeshi students who attend madrasas.
Bangladesh has two kinds: private Quomi madrasas and state-sponsored Alia madrasas. There are an estimated 6,500 Quomi madrasas in the country, with almost 1.5 million students. More:
He was 22, tall and handsome. She was 27, bubbly, attractive and looking for a husband. When they first met — at their wedding in 1990 — Ashiq Hussain Faktoo was already one of Kashmir’s most wanted jihadis and a founder of the state’s largest militant outfit, Hizbul Mujahideen.
His bride, Asiya Andrabi, was also a household name. She headed the secessionist women’s group, Dukhtaran-e-Millat. Faktoo and Andrabi’s troubled union, scarred by almost continuous separation, might almost be the story of Kashmir’s turbulent relationship with India.
Andrabi became an activist in the cause of gender equality. She would exhort women to fight male domination by assembling at mosques — hitherto off-limits — for religious discourses. Then she changed course and began to fight for political, not gender “freedom”. Dukhtaran-e-Millat activists became undercover agents and a vital source of information for militants.
This was the moment Andrabi wanted to get married. There were many suitable boys, for she was attractive and wealthy and belonged to an upper-caste Saeed family. A biochemistry graduate from Kashmir University, Andrabi shelved plans for a postgraduate course at Dalhousie.
Faktoo was five years her junior and fascinated by tales of Andrabi’s exploits. From deep within his hiding place in the forests of north Kashmir, Faktoo proposed marriage. She agreed. She was keen to marry into the jihadi cause. The nikah was scheduled at a rented house in Baspora near Faktoo’s hideout. More:
Actor Aamir Bashir turns director with Harud. The film has been shot by Shanker Raman and stars Reza Naji.
From Harud website: Rafiq and his family are struggling to come to terms with the loss of his older brother Tauqir, a tourist photographer, who is one of the thousands of young men who have disappeared, since the onset of the militant insurgency in Kashmir.
After an unsuccessful attempt to cross the border into Pakistan, to become a militant, Rafiq returns home to an aimless existence.
Until one day, he accidently finds his brother’s old camera.
Getting at the truth in Kashmir is like interpreting the Dance of the Seven Veils. But there are moments that will startle you with their clarity. Like listening to 31-year-old Rafiqa, a housewife, at a protest in Srinagar’s Rambagh. Amidst chants of ‘Azaadi’, she would say to my surprise, “Yeh masla goli se nahin, boli se hal hoga.” Dialogue, not the bullet, is the way forward.
Like veils, Azaadi takes on several layers of meaning in Kashmir. You can never really tell how many. It’s something I first learned more than 15 years ago — going to buy walnut macaroons at the Jan bakery in Srinagar. It was closed and as I asked around, each explanation left me more confused. The first passer-by told me that curfew was on, the second attributed the closure to a hartal called by the Hurriyat, another added the bakery employees were picked up by security forces after firing in the area, and yet another told me that a militant group had issued threats. Eventually, it turned out that the owners were bereaved. I did not get my macaroons, but I took home the simple lesson — the truth has many versions in a conflict zone.
It should, therefore, come as no surprise to Chief Minister Omar Abdullah that even after his government’s attempt to throw the book at the man who threw a shoe at him, many now believe it was all a PR exercise concocted by his spin doctors. After all, his own officers had three versions of the truth — that Abdul Ahad Jan was mentally unstable, that he was a disgruntled officer with a poor service record, and that he had disrupted the Independence Day proceedings and aimed his shoe at the behest of Mr. Abdullah’s political rivals. Despite the overkill on theories and the very serious charge of sedition against Jan, when Mr. Abdullah decided to meet him and “forgive him,” the buzz on Srinagar’s curfew-silenced streets was that Jan was part of a government plot to make the Chief Minister look good. And then Jan resigned and pledged allegiance to the separatists. More:
US investment in Pakistan’s textile, technology and education sectors could help nudge the country away from terrorism. Feisal Hussain Naqvi in the Guardian:
International attention has focused on Pakistan like never before in the weeks following the Mumbai attacks. To quote Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer and adviser to President-elect Barack Obama: “All of the world’s nightmares come together in Pakistan.”
Assuming the world does not have the option of turning its back on the country, what can it do to help Pakistan?
The short answer is that Pakistan needs economic assistance. The militant extremists who wreak havoc are, for the most part, unemployed and frustrated young men.
If the Pakistani people – as opposed to the Pakistani military – were given tangible, visible economic assistance, it would go a long way toward winning over a suspicious populace. After all, starving Pakistanis cannot eat the F-16s sold to their armed forces.
Asiya Andrabi founded the notorious moral police Dukhtaran-e-Millat (Daughters of the Faith) in Kashmir. In The Times of India, Sarmila Ganesan meets her in Srinagar:
When Asiya Andrabi first went to buy a burqa at the age of 19, the shopkeeper told her she was too young for one. He didn’t even stock much burqa material then as it was hardly in demand. Today, seated in her in-laws’ home in downtown Srinagar, covered from head to toe in a thick black burqa, the 45-year-old says things are different now. In many ways, she feels responsible for this change. “Islam has instructed women to cover themselves completely,” says Andrabi, who is wearing white gloves and dark glasses too. A few years ago, Andrabi, along with other burqa-clad women, had sprayed “harmless” paint on the faces of Muslim women who were not veiled. Subsequently, she was arrested. For being a threat to national security.
“What has morality got to do with a country’s security?” asks Andrabi, president of a separatist organisation she formed in 1981 called Dukhtaran-e-Millat (Daughters of the Faith), which was banned in 2002 under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. She believes that Kashmir is a part of Pakistan.