A study on families of disappeared persons (DPs) in Jammu and Kashmir has thrown up some startling data: more than 72 percent of those who disappeared after being picked up by security forces or militants in the last 23 years were innocent civilians.
The term 'DPs' is used to describe those people who were picked up from their homes or other places in the presence of witnesses, family members or friends, on suspicion of being militants by security forces or by separatists on suspicions of being police informers and were never seen again.
The study, titled 'Disappeared Persons and Conditions of their Families in Kashmir', was supervised by renowned sociologist B.A. Dabla and supported by the J&K chapter of Action Aid International.
The study encompasses over 700 cases of DPs in Kashmir and discusses some of them in detail. The study says the majority of DPs, that is 99.84 percent, were males and usually the sole earners for their families. Most of them (83.33 percent) were in the age group of 21 to 35 and 37.14 percent of them were married.
Although the disappeared were predominantly from the Muslim community, Hindus and Sikhs formed 0.75 percent of the DPs in Kashmir. But only 22.42 percent of the DPs had militant affiliations while a majority of them (72.72 percent) were innocent civilians, the study claims.
Dependants of the DPs are known as half-widows and half-orphans as in the absence of their bodies, the existing legal system is unable to declare the wives as widows or the children as orphans.
"In the absence of the male authority in the families of the DPs, loss of patriarchal authority has resulted in social disorganisation," said Dabla, principal investigator of the study. "The resulting maladjustment, social isolation and segregation gave rise to deviance within these families and juvenile delinquency outside. Thus crime thrived and got a social basis," he said.
In addition, the study reveals that social segregation and taboos attached to the families of DPs have given rise to health problems such as hyper vigilance, fallback, sleeplessness, nightmares, trauma and other emotional complications.
"Over 42 percent of the respondents of our study admitted they are experiencing nightmares," Dabla said. The study reveals that families of DPs have been complaining of irritability, muscle tension, melancholy and aggressiveness. "The problem of violent behaviour was quoted by 13.28 percent of the respondents," Dabla said.
The major implication of the psychological problems among members of DP's families has been drug addiction (23 percent). Also, an increase in diseases otherwise unknown to be associated with psychological complications has also been seen among the families of DPs.
"Respondents identified an increase in diabetes, vision impairment, hearing impairment, renal and gastric problems besides arthritis," Dabla said.
In its conclusion, the study makes a strong case for improving the lot of the families whose dear ones disappeared due to one or the other reason.
"The primary reason for the social and economic deprivation of the family members, especially the wives and children called half-widows and half-orphans, is because they have no legal status and cannot claim rights as widows or inherit properties as orphans.
"After they landed in their present predicament, the members of these families have not received any positive and sympathetic response from either the state or society," the study says.