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Kashmiri women: Still waiting for children to come home

Nov 10, 2013

The women of Kashmir have braved the toughest odds and waged lone battles for the safety of their beloved family members, writes Sana Altaf.

Srinagar: Every Sunday, Atiqa Begum has a special chore. It’s the day she enters her son Javaid’s small, neatly painted blue room. She throws open the windows to let the sunlight in. She rearranges the bed, which has not been used for years, organises the bookshelves and dusts the cupboards. Then she locks the room for the week.

This weekly ritual has become a lifeline for Atiqa ever since Javaid disappeared from their home. He was then but a 14-year-old Class Seven student and the lone son of his parents. “Every time I clean Javaid’s room, I feel he is coming. It gives me immense pleasure and the strength to live,” says Atiqa, 54, who hails from Pulwama in Jammu & Kashmir.

On a fateful day in October 1993, Javaid was having lunch with his father, Ghulam Nabi, when security forces cordoned off the whole area. Ghulam recalls that suddenly three security personnel barged into their house and took Javaid away. “That was a time, when people arrested for suspicious activity would name anyone a militant to save their skin. Javaid was the victim of the same,” he says sadly.

When they were taking Javaid away the security personnel assured his parents that they were only taking him in for questioning and would leave him home soon. But they failed to keep their ‘promise’. When Javaid was not back even after sundown, the family started looking for him in camps of the Army and the Border Security Force (BSF).

Recalls Atiqa, “I went to every bunker and camp to look for him. But every time we were told to come back the next day. Several days went by in this manner but there was still no news of my son.”

Then one day the security personnel told Ghulam Nabi that Javaid had escaped a camp where he had been held. But immediately after this came some other piece of news that upset the couple even more. Says the distraught father, “Someone from Hazratbal in Srinagar called me and said that he had seen my son in the army camp there. We rushed to the spot.”

Javaid’s parents went to plead to the security forces to leave their son six months after he had disappeared but “they simply denied the reports”. Since then, there has been no news of Javaid. “He was my lone son. He was the centre of our world. I don’t know where he has gone,” adds a dejected Atiqa, who has left no stone unturned to find him.

Soon after Javaid’s disappearance, Atiqa’s younger daughter passed away of from a brain haemorrhage. Says the unfortunate mother, “There is no end to our suffering. Only a mother knows what it’s like to lose both of one’s children.”

Even as Atiqa nurtures hope in one corner of her heart, Mugali Begum’s dream of being reunited with her son has remained unfulfilled. Mugali struggled all alone for 20 years to trace her son but died in 2009 without seeing him.

From the beginning, her life hadn’t been easy. Mugali was divorced by her husband about a year after marriage. She was then the mother of a three-month-old Nazir Ahmad. The mother-son duo lived in a single room modest dwelling in Old Srinagar city. She worked hard in a school as a helper in order to educate Nazir, who eventually became a government teacher.

Things were going on just fine till August 1990, when all hell broke loose for Mugali. Nazir was going to collect his monthly salary when he was allegedly picked up by security forces.

Mugali, during an earlier interaction with this reporter, had recalled that she would spend days together visiting police stations, camps, bunkers and interrogation centres to trace Nazir’s whereabouts. All the money that she earned was spend on filing cases and travelling to distant corners of the state to look for her beloved son. Today, she has taken her wish to the grave.

Says Parveena Ahanger, president of the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP), “She would live alone in one corner of her room, singing elegies, calling her son. She wanted to get a last glimpse of her son but she died without seeing him.”

The APDP, a group that came together in 1994, includes mothers and wives of those who have allegedly been subjected to enforced disappearances in Kashmir. Even as it has been campaigning for several years to know the whereabouts of missing relatives, it has also been providing financial assistance to women, who have no proper means of making ends meet.

It’s been 20 years of waiting and watching for Maimoona, 40, but she remains optimistic about being with her husband, Akhtar Hussain, sometime in the future. Ever since he went missing in 1992, she has been going from pillar to post to trace him.

Hussain, who was a tailor by profession, had left home to go to the funeral of his friend. “The funeral prayer was held in Nehru Park in the Lal Chowk area of Srinagar. He left home at 2.30 in the afternoon never to return,” says Maimoona, who has been offering special prayers for her husband’s safety ever since.

That very evening, Maimoona, then the mother of a six-month-old son, went to the police station to file missing persons report. “Later, news came to us that he had been arrested by security forces,” she continues.

Maimoona went all alone to every army camp and office in the region to search for Hussain but all her efforts have been in vain. In fact, just few days after her husband went missing her in-laws too left her, blaming her for the misfortunes that had befallen their family. She says, “They did not bother to find him after that. They left me to live alone. I am pursuing the case of my husband single-handedly now.”

Despite the strife Maimoona has brought up her son well, putting him through school while she worked as domestic helper in her area to earn a living. “I want my son to stand on his own feet. I shall continue my struggle till the end of my life,” she adds.

According to the APDP, nearly 10,000 people have disappeared in Kashmir during the past 23 years of conflict. However, the government has been giving contradictory figures on the missing persons. During the 2012 autumn session of the legislative assembly, they had revealed that there were 2305 persons missing till July 2012. Previously, the National Conference government in 2002 had said that 3184 persons had gone missing between 1989-2002, which, too, were in contradiction to the numbers provided in 2003 by the then chief minister, Mufti Mohammad Syed, who had stated that there were 3,744 missing persons in Kashmir between 2000 and 2002.

APDP’s Praveena, whose son has also been lost for the last 21 years, is determined to see that women like her get justice one day. She is pursuing the case of Mugali as well as several other women. She, however, fears that she might not be able to see her own son in her lifetime. “We mothers just want to know where our sons have gone. I fear we all might die without seeing our beloved children. We shall never get peace,” she rues.

These women have braved the toughest odds and waged lone battles for the safety of their beloved family members. It remains to be seen how far they can go only on hope and prayer.

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