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- Never Again To Ask Question: Where are You?

NEWS Features


The Brave
Human Rights Defenders

The Ordinance Anticlimax and its Aftermath...

Expression of Pain
Wives of the Disappeared
Bare Their Hearts...

A Glow in the Dark:
The AFAD’s 11th Anniversary

Eleven years of trials and
triumphs towards a world
without desaparecidos


To See With The Heart
A Sharing 

The State of human Rights in the Philippines:
Wearing off the Facade 

Peru: A Milestone in the Struggle for Justice
Fugimori is sentenced to 25 years in prison
for crimes against humanity

A Reflection: Between the Devil
and the Deep Blue Sea

Sri Lanka: Human Rights Under Fire

Report on the Lobby for the United Nations Convention For the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and Workshop of Women Human Rights Defenders

Helping the Families of the
Disappeared help themselves...

Solidarity Message

Mothers of the Disappeared


News Feature


By Khurram Parvez
Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons
- Kashmir, India

The issue of enforced or involuntary disappearance (EID) has left many families in the state of melancholy. The families whose dear ones were subjected to this cruel and inhuman treatment suffer in various ways. The victims’ fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, half widows and children start their day with a dream for the return of their disappeared loved ones but their evenings end up in despair and desolation. If their agony and depression are not healed, it may lead them to an untreatable malady.

The phenomenon of disappearance could cause incessant torture to the lives of family members of the disappeared. The kith and kin of disappeared undergo economic, social and other problems. Such a tragedy traumatizes the mind and the body. The consequent stress overwhelms a person and causes lasting psychological effects. In the context of Jammu and Kashmir, the half widows become the direct targets of disappearances. They have no source to sustain and to nourish their children. They undergo many hardships and come across many social and economic problems.

The victims’ families suffer from various psychological disorders like post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, mental and traumatic disorders and cardiac attacks. In medical terminology, a trauma is simply a wound or injury that happens suddenly or violently by some irrevocable loss. Since the beginning of the conflict in Kashmir, mental trauma is common among people particularly with the relatives of disappeared persons.

The Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP), in cooperation with the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD) facilitates workshops, a support system that provides the families of the disappeared a common way of adapting to their trauma, i.e. sharing stories and experiences. In fact, these events provide the victims’ families the means to handle their sufferings and trauma.

To avert more tragedies to such victims, the APDP, in cooperation with the AFAD organizes rehabilitation cum therapeutic programs so that such efforts would lend a hand to the suffering family members and to purge their haunting reminiscences. Such psycho-moral rehabilitation workshops have been organized during these last three years and had been proven helpful in healing the depressed and dejected victims of enforced or involuntary disappearance.

To sustain such efforts, on 28-29 December 2008, the APDP organized a workshop with the support of Medicin Sans Frontiers (MSF), an international organization working on mental health in the state of Jammu and Kashmir and the Doctors from the Department of Psychiatry. The executive members of APDP and some other victims of enforced or involuntary disappearance took part in this program.

The Medicin Sans Frontiers (MSF) team of five persons was led by its Health Officer, Ms. Judi. The team of doctors from the Department of Psychiatry was led by renowned Clinical Psychologist of Kashmir, Doctor Muzaffar Ahmed Khan who helped the victims’ families understand relaxation and rehabilitation techniques. All these experts gave various suggestions and pieces of advice to the participants so that they could help other victims of the same tragedy to overcome their traumas and move on with life.

Day 1

The MSF Health Officer, Miss Judi, commenced the first session of the program. While encouraging victims, she said that MSF professionals could also learn from those who are victimized and who are suffering and she considered them as the real experts. She commended that the relatives of disappeared have associated themselves in the APDP to fight for justice with courage and strength and to ascertain the whereabouts of their dear ones, whose lives have been stolen.

While speaking to the members of the APDP, she said, “It is really great you help other people of the same suffering. You listen to the stories of others and allow them to express their feelings and offer them support. You can even share experiences and hopes with other victims of disappearance. You can suggest to them to do things that you did to cope with the depression and other problems.”

“The tragedy of disappearance is so worse that sometimes family members of the victims deny that he or she met such an incident in the family. It is like a bad dream and the victim gets angry over other family members or even sometimes reproves God. The family member of the disappeared feels guilty and thinks that the incident could have been prevented. In such a situation, a family member of a disappeared experiences depression, lack of zest in life, intense sadness, etc. To respond to the situation, professional help is needed. Counselors help victims in overcoming these problems,” added Ms Judi.

Impact of the Previous Rehabilitation Program

Nevertheless, the counselors discussed about previous workshops and invited participants’ opinions about these. Many trained victims expressed their experiences and wishes.

Mohammad Yaseen Malik, an executive member of the APDP said, “the victims not only suffer from depression, they also get other disorders which could not be cured by counseling only. There is also a need for medical diagnosis for such victims. We should be taught with more skills so that we would become proficient in supporting others.”

Ghulam Nabi Mir of Uri and Ms. Shaheena requested that such workshops be organized twice in a year so that there would be a constant process of helping victims overcome their poignant trauma. Both articulated that the previous workshop proved noteworthy for the trauma ridden families of the disappeared.

Another young member of APDP, Shabnam Jan, whose brother involuntarily disappeared, expressed: “Last year’s rehabilitation program had trained and encouraged me a lot. My father was very much distressed but I guided him with some methods, which were taught to us by psychotherapists last year. The techniques in fact helped him to a great extent to come out of distress and now he feels better.”

Day 1 - Second Session

After taking note of past experiences of participants,  the counselor divided all of them into four groups. Each group was given the task to make a note of their day-today problems and one professional assisted every group. Finally, the groups concluded the task by pointing out the disorders and ailments which came across their lives by the trauma of the disappearance of their loved ones.

After taking note of ailments, Mr. Bahjad and Ms. Iffat, both counselors with MSF, discussed about symptoms of mental disorders and methods of coping. These subjects were detailed to enhance the expertise of participants.

Symptoms and Coping Methods of Mental Flux

The counselor narrated that there are four categories of symptoms among the mentally unsteady and traumatic patients, and these are; (1) physical symptoms (2) emotional symptoms (3) cognitive symptoms (4) behavioral symptoms. However, there are two kinds of coping i.e. positive coping and negative coping.

Physical Symptoms

These symptoms are indicated by different pressures over the victims and such pressures affect the health victims and they usually get disorders like, headache, heartache, trembling, etc.

Emotional Symptoms

These symptoms are known when a family member of a disappeared weeps and often remains absent-minded and unconscious. In such conditions, a victim also considers that his or her life is full of sorrows.

Cognitive Symptoms

These symptoms are understood when a victim suffers from forgetfulness and often thinks negatively. Under these circumstances, a family member of a disappeared also feels guilty conscious as if he is  responsible for the untoward happening.

Behavioral Symptoms

During the symptoms, the victim’s behaviors changes and s/he treats everyone differently. A victim in such a situation expresses anger and resentment on trivial matters. Generally, this person prefers solitude and becomes intolerant.

Methods of Coping

Mr. Bahjad and Ms. Iffat, while deliberating about the coping methods, said that before counseling a victim, we must keep three things in mind: individualism, psycho-education of a person and body-mind relationship. Before counseling a patient or victim, we must ensure the following things:

1. Active and patient listening to the victim;
2. Providing the victim with a chance to speak out at
3. Assuring confidentiality to the victim and understanding and sympathizing with his or her problem;
4. Understanding the victim’s problems and seeking and providing available remedies;
5. Suggesting to the victims and patients the following:

a. To keep themselves engaged in work and avoid solitude;
b. To make regular visits to their relatives and friends in order to avert their grief;
c. To take part in sports and other games which can also be helpful to mitigate the stress level;
d. To visit a professional psychiatrist or counselor who could give proper attention to him or her and can prescribe medical help after proper diagnosis. This is applicable if the cause of the problem is not understood;
e. To think positively and to create power of tolerance;
f. To sit together with other family members and share ideas and experience with them;
g. To take efforts to understand the results of good thinking and bad thinking and advice for good thinking.

The above techniques and suggestions were taught to the participants so that they can heal their corresponding co- victims and other persons of same disorders.


Day 2

Dr. Muzaffar Khan, Consultant Clinical Psychologist of Kashmir led the next day session. He started it with an interaction with participants and listened to their experiences. The participants, while sharing their problems, informed Dr. Muzaffar about various problems they encountered while counseling their counterparts.

Dr. Muzaffar said, “There are only 18 psychiatrists in Kashmir and patients of psychological disorders are less aware about the presence of such Khurram Parvez, an undaunted champion for peace, defends human rights in war-torn Kashmir, encourages young people to pursue peaceful approaches to change and advocates for families affected by the violence. While he was a university student in Kashmir, Khurram witnessed the distress and hostility of students accustomed to a lifetime of violence. He was a recipient of the 2004 Reebok Human Rights Award. He works for the AFAD as an alternate Council member representing the APDP. experts in their areas. Whenever a victim suffers from a psychological ailment, he or she resorts to a hospital. The victim does not get proper treatment. Then he or she visits magicians to get rid of the problem but nothing concrete happens. A patient of mental trauma needs counseling as well as medicines.”

Responding to the queries of the APDP participants, he added, “If you cannot persuade any victim or if a victim does not agree with your suggestions, then contact any relative or friend of that person and make them understand about the remedies available for the affected.”

Dr. Muzaffar stated that there are some elements in society who exploit psychologically disturbed people. Such elements can make an unsteady person a drug addict or even can use him for committing criminal activities. So whenever a trained healer finds such kind of a victim, suggest that a professional psychiatrist, who could help him overcome the stress, be consulted.

Dr. Muzaffar taught the participants some relaxation techniques and advised them to practice these techniques in their house. He prescribed that the relaxation techniques can be of great help for the mentally disturbed people.

The last session was carried out by Dr. Muzaffar and his colleagues by practically teaching the participants various therapeutic exercises, breathing exercises, etc. Eventually the session was concluded with a relaxation practice. All the participants, including professionals, underwent this activity. Dr. Muzaffar suggested that the participants could be trained to use this technique to their counterparts so that they can help them in overcoming their trauma and minimizing stress.


Khurram Parvez, an undaunted champion for peace, defends human rights in war-torn Kashmir, encourages young people to pursue peaceful approaches to change and advocates for families affected by the violence. While he was a university student in Kashmir, Khurram witnessed the distress and hostility of students accustomed to a lifetime of violence. He was a recipient of the 2004 Reebok Human Rights Award. He works for the AFAD as an alternate Council member representing the APDP.

VOICE August  2009


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