Chief Minister Omar Abdullah on Tuesday revealed that only 1,105 persons had disappeared in Jammu and Kashmir since 1989. The number is far lower than what his government said in August 2009 leaving the rest unaccounted for.

In reply to a question by MLA Lolab Abdul Haque Khan, Mr. Abdullah informed the State Assembly in a written reply that “only 1,105 persons are reported to have disappeared in the State since 1989.” He said ex gratia had been given in the case of 530 such affected families.

The Chief Minister's reply in fact opens up a Pandora's Box and throws up many bigger questions. It not only puts the whole issue of disappearances in dock, but also gives an impression that successive governments have taken this “grave human” problem casually.

On August 25, 2009 the Omar Abdullah-led government told the State Assembly that the number of such missing people was 3,429.

Earlier on August 14, 2009, in reply to a similar question, the government admitted in the Assembly that the number of people missing in custody was just 110, of which cases were registered in respect of 98 and 4 were challenged (prosecution completed). The contradiction in government figures has further confused the situation.

If on Tuesday the Chief Minister put the number at 1,105, where have the 2,324 persons gone in six months? Have they resurfaced or have their whereabouts been made public? Going by the records available in the Assembly, on July 18, 2002, Khalid Najib Suhrawardy, the then Minister of State for Home Affairs, told the Assembly that 3,184 persons were missing. On February 25, 2003 the then Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed told the same Assembly that 3,744 people were missing from 2000-2002. His Law Minister Muzaffar Baig told the Assembly on March 25, 2003 that since 1992, 3,744 people disappeared of whom 135 had been declared dead up to June 2002. “The number of disappearances could be even more,” he said.

Ironically, Mr. Sayeed in the presence of then Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee told a press conference in Srinagar on April, 20, 2003 that the number was just 60. Again on June 21, 2003, his party's Minister A.R. Veeri told the Assembly that the number of missing people was now 3,931.

The question now is if the number was 3,931 in June 2003, how could it have gone down to 3,429 in August 2009, and to 1,105 in March 2010 when the complaints about disappearances have increased?

The Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) rubbished the government's claim. “This shows how serious the government is towards the issue,” APDP chairperson Parveena Ahangar told The Hindu. “We are looking for the whereabouts of our dear ones and instead of facilitating any information, they are rubbing salt in our wounds,” she added.