Known as the ‘Iron Lady of Kashmir’ for her relentless protests against the alleged abduction of her son by the Indian Army in 1990 and thereafter forming the Association of Parents of Disappeared Parents (APDP) in 1994, Parveena Ahanger has featured on the BBC’s list of top 100 inspiring women.
Fifty-year-old Parveena has been leading the association, which is backed by the United Nations, for 25 years along with other activists who have time and again raised the issue of “disappearances”.
Her indomitable spirit and relentless fight have made her emerge as a noted activist in the Kashmir Valley. Her association has been holding sit-in protests for over two decades against alleged “forced disappearances”.
Parveena has won several accolades for her work. She was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2015. She was honoured with Norway’s Rafto Prize 2017 for her human rights work.
Recalling what led her to start the protests, Parveena in an interview told a UK-based news portal that her son was abducted when he was a student of Class 11.
“After I learned about his abduction, I thought he will be released soon and come back home. But since then I have been waiting. Now my wait has entered its 27th year,” she was quoted by the portal.
Soon after the news of her son’s abduction reached her, she filed a complaint with the police. She said that the police assured her that she will get her son back. Parveena said that after nine days she realised that the police were ‘powerless’ and she started her protest.
In 1991, she also filed a case against the Army in the Jammu Kashmir High Court, demanding to know the whereabouts of her son.
After being dejected in her fight several times, she was quoted saying in an interview, “This was the time I lost faith in the justice system of India, they were all lying.”
During her search for her son and during the course of her protest, Parveena Ahanger had made several visits to Army camps. This was the time when she came in touch with many others who had stories similar to her.
“It occurred to me during these visits that if we fought together, something might come out of it. So I began a new search to find the families whose dear ones had been taken by the state forces,” she said.
Along with the support of these families, Parveena managed to assemble 50 people whose family members had “disappeared”. In 1994, APDP was formed. The group began to hold sit-in protests in front of the gates of the High Court of Jammu and Kashmir.
Parveena and her fellow activists were met with several obstacles by the administration but nothing could stop them.
Her website claims, “APDP activelyahanger campaigns for an end to the practice and crime of involuntary and enforced disappearances at local, national and international platforms. Members of the APDP have been engaged in documenting enforced disappearances in Kashmir since 1989 and have collected information on over one thousand such cases, so far. On the 10th of each month families of the disappeared come together under the aegis of APDP to hold a public protest in Srinagar to commemorate the disappearance of their loved ones and to seek answers from the state about the whereabouts of the missing persons.”