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Kashmir’s big lie
- Away from nithari and Gujarat, A Tragedy buried under statistics

Maybe the appointment letter was never issued. Maybe it got lost in the post. Tahira doesn’t want to know any more.

Had the 32-year-old mother of three been less insistent that morning five years ago, her husband Tariq Ahmad Rather may not have left home to find out. And disappear like the letter.

“He was a daily wager with the Uri Hydel Project. All his fellow masons had received letters saying their jobs had been confirmed. He was the only one left out,” Tahira said.

“None of us could understand it. We were heart-broken, and he couldn’t bear to see it.”

Rather left his Uri village for the Delhi headquarters of the company to get his letter. That was the last Tahira saw of him. “We don’t need his job any more; we only want him back,’’ she sobbed.

Nobody knows the exact count of Jammu and Kashmir’s missing.

The Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons puts the number at 8,000 to 10,000 and alleges that most went missing in the security forces’ custody.

“We have so far documented around 1,000 cases, but it isn’t possible to document all because of the resources involved,’’ said Pervez Imroz, the association’s legal adviser.

The recent exhumation of five bodies, believed to be of men killed in fake encounters, has renewed fears that most of the missing may have been killed by the men in uniform. Imroz said after the expose, many families have approached the organisation in the past few days with fresh complaints about disappearances.

The official figures, however, vary. The state government says the number is less than 1,100 and claims most of them had crossed the Line of Control to receive arms training.

But there are differences within the government. Chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad’s key ally, the People’s Democratic Party, says the LoC theory only partly explains the disappearances.

“There are hundreds and hundreds of families whose members are missing. The families are running from pillar to post to find out their whereabouts,’’ PDP president Mehbooba Mufti said.

Tahira has moved to Srinagar with her three children, partly to earn a livelihood by stitching but more because the state capital is the likeliest place where she can hope to receive any news of Rather.

“There isn’t a place where I didn’t go to look for him — from locality to locality, village to village, prison to prison. I have sold my jewellery. But I haven’t given up hope.’’

But 15 years is a long time to keep hoping. All that Ghulam Mohammad Bazaz feels now is anger.

“You can expect no justice from the government. I would leave my home in the morning and return by evening to trace my son. Gods knows how many days passed that way,’’ the elderly man said at his home in Hazratbal.

It was in the early days of militancy, in 1992, when the BSF had come for his son. Sajjad never came back.

Bazaz has even identified the culprit: Asgar, a BSF informer from the adjoining Nageen locality. “He was the man who accompanied the BSF party (to my house). The BSF absorbed him in the force.”

The victims haven’t always been Kashmiri Muslims.

In 2003, the army hired four Hindu labourers from Jammu who then disappeared. A year later, their families received an anonymous letter saying they had been killed in a fake encounter and passed off as Pakistani militants.

When these families went to Kupwara, they claimed to have recognised the bodies from photographs as those of their loved ones, and are now fighting a long-drawn battle for exhumation.

In the year 2000, the army allegedly killed five villagers in Pathribal after branding them Pakistani militants responsible for the Chattisinghpora massacre of 35 Sikhs. The CBI indicted the army but exonerated the police, who had jointly claimed credit.

The government had been reluctant to take action till recently. “When I approached (former home minister) Ali Md Sagar and Mehbooba Mufti, they wouldn’t even listen,” said Abdul Rasheed Beig, whose son Fayaz vanished 10 years ago.

But unlike the past, the government has now sent out a strong message by arresting SSP H.R. Parihar and DSP Bahadur Ram over the fake encounter scandal.

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