Three women, three losses

  • Irfan Amin Malik
  • Publish Date: Sep 17 2017 10:27PM
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  • Updated Date: Sep 17 2017 10:27PM
Three women, three losses

On the International Day of the Disappeared, August 30, Bhakti, Raja and Tasleema were at  Pratap Park in Srinagar for a protest demonstration to press the state to reveal what had happened to their beloved sons

 

It's less painful knowing your child is dead than not knowing what became of him, Bakhti Begum and Raja Begum say, echoing each other. Both lost their young sons in the 1990s to the graveyard of hope -- “disappearance”.

They live in different corners of Kashmir -- Bakhti in Kandi Kupwara and Raja in Chak-i-Kawosa, Budgam -- but their tragedies couldn't be more similar. For one, both their husbands died of  heartbreak, from losing their children.

On the International Day of the Disappeared, August 30, Bhakti and Raja were at  Pratap Park in Srinagar for a protest demonstration to press the state to reveal what had happened to their to beloved sons. They were joined by dozens of other families whose children disappeared into the void of the Kashmir conflict, never to return again.

The protest was organised by the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons, headed by Parveena Ahanger. The protest by the families of the disappeared at Pratap Park has become an annual ritual.

“Wherever I go, whatever I do, my son, Ghulam Ahmed Dar, is always in my mind. I always think about him,” says Raja holding a fading picture of her son.

She remembers the chilly November day her son disappeared in 1997 like it was yesterday. “He went to school but did not return. We went to the school to look for him, but he was nowhere. The next day, my husband and I went to the Budgam police station to lodge an FIR, but the police turned us away.” Ghulam Ahmed was in Class 9 at Government High School Narbal, Budgam, and, his mother says “good at studies”.

In the years since, Raja has searched “graveyards, morgues, prisons, torture centres” but, she laments, she never got “even a glimpse” of his son anywhere.

Raja has four sons and a daughter. Her husband, Mohammad Maqbool Dar, died in 2010, of a broken heart.

Raja has endured great suffering, but she hasn't let her spirit be crushed. “We observe this day every year and remember our loved ones. I have only one motive for coming here: I want to tell the world to its voice against these disappearances that occurred in Jammu and Kashmir. If i do this, maybe no mother, no daughter, no wife will have to suffer as we have,” she says.

Bakhti’s son, Mushtaq Ahmed Khan, was a Class 10 student at Government High School, Kandi. He too left for school one morning in May 1998, never to return. "I went to every village, every state, every police station and every prison, but he was nowhere. If my son is alive, tell me; if not, show me his grave,” the Bhakti,40, pleaded as she broke down.

The pain of losing Mushtaq devastated his father, Ghulam Ahmed Khan, and he developed heart diseases. He gave up working in fields and rearing cattle, and died of a heart attack in 2011.

This is the first year Bakhti has joined the APDP protest at Pratap Park. “Only yesterday evening did somebody told me about this day and I couldn't wait to come here in memory of my beloved son. I am very poor and I did not have the money to travel here. I took loan from a village shopkeeper,” she said.

Bhakti has four other sons and a daughter. “We have suffered so much during the last 18 years. Other than the Almighty, there is no one with whom I can share my pain," she says.

Standing alongside Raja and Bakhti at Pratap Park was a young woman holding a placard that read, “Missing, Laapata.”

Tasleema Bano is from Barzullah Bhagat in Srinagar. She is 34, but her face has started to wrinkle and she wore tired eyes -- telltale signs of the toll taken by the separation of her soulmate Nazir Ahmed Dakka.

Nazir, a perfume seller from Kokernag, was detained by the army in Srinagar on February 16, 2006. He was selling his wares from his bicycle cart at Lal Chowk when the army took him away. “For a year, I searched for him everywhere from Delhi to Srinagar -- in all police stations, army camps. But I  could not find him,” Tasleema says.

After more than a year, on March 3, 2007, the police handed over Nazir’s body to his family. “The government provided us some relief but they didn't arrest the murderers of my husband.”

“I was pregnant when my soulmate was snatched away from me. I was just 23 and he was 24. We were living a blissful life,” Tasleema says.

After Nazir was buried, Tasleema returned to her parents, along with her two kids. “Life is very difficult without a man in the family. My parents cannot do all the things my husband would have done. Our life has been shattered.”

Despite the hardship, Tasleema is insistent that she won't remarry. There was a time she could have married again, but that time is long gone. “My little daughter was the reason I did not remarry after my husband's death. I thought it would not be good for her. I regret that decision now. I am living a distressed life. My daughter is grown up and I have to marry her also.”

Tasleema says she joined the protest “to refresh the sweet memories I had with my husband.” Also, she adds, “I am here to demand my right.”

“Azad sahab had seen my case and promised to provide me a job but nothing has been done by the government so far,” Tasleema explained, referring to the former chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad. “I am asking for the SRO job I was promised so that I can feed my family. I have two children, my son is 4th standard and my daughter in 7th. It is pretty difficult for me to raise them. I am poor.”

Tasleema is thankful to the APDP and the J&K Yateem Trust as well as her relatives who she says are helping her financially, and paying for her children's education.