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Case of disappearance.

HRCSA  has drawn attention to a very serious problem that has emerged of late in Pakistan. It is the disappearance of people which is being reported from different parts of the country. HRCSA has pointed out that an unspecified number of students have disappeared from Balochistan.
There have also been reports of unexplained ‘disappearances’ which have not led to the recovery of the victims for several months — even years in some cases. Previously, disappearances were mostly cases of kidnapping for ransom. Some cases had political enmity or personal vendetta as the motive behind the crime.
Generally the victim was traceable and was also recovered, except when he had been killed or was in police custody. The situation has taken a very serious turn now because there are far too many cases where the victims’ whereabouts cannot be ascertained,causing intense mental agony to the family.

Who are these people who have disappeared? In the absence of any records, one can only guess. Many are those who are picked up by the agencies or the police. Although they should be aware of the fundamental right of freedom of all citizens and the legal processes that need to be followed if a person is required for investigation or interrogation, the authorities wilfully violate these and act arbitrarily. They pick up persons unlawfully and do not disclose their whereabouts even when a court intervenes on a habeas corpus petition. The war against terror that the government has been waging has also provided the authorities with a the pretext to pick up ‘suspects’ who, it seems, immediately lose the fundamental rights
they enjoy under the Constitution. Equally bad is the emergence of a new trend. People in a position of power in social and economic life are acting blatantly to deprive anybody they deem necessary of his personal freedom. Take the case of the ten members of Munno Bheel’s family, who were bonded labourers and disappeared in 1998, two years after their release had been obtained by the HRCP. They are suspected of having been picked up by the landlord who had bonded them. But the police have not yet been able to trace the family in spite of orders of a court. Another section of power wielders in our society today are the religious bigots and their madressahs. Numerous cases have been reported of non-Muslim, especially Hindu,
girls being kidnapped and converted to Islam by religious leaders. They are then lost to their families since the madressahs where they are held never allow access to these girls.

It is strange that this new phenomenon is hardly being taken note of. The police are not proving to be very helpful either since they are not too willing to even register FIRs, leave aside actually work to recover a person. In one case a Hindu woman who was accused of blasphemy is reported to have embraced Islam in jail at the hands of the chief justice of a high court trying her case. It is time the government took serious note of these disappearances and got the police and the judiciary to put their acts together to recover the victims. The government should also ensure that the agencies do not violate the law themselves.
The HRCSA could start a cell to keep records of disappeared persons in order to publicize the details and generate pressure on the authorities to act.