[by Junaid Rather]
Srinagar, May 11: Rehti Begum, 70, waited 24 years for one last glimpse of her disappeared son, Ramzan Sheikh, before she died. But that could not come true for she died last month without seeing her son, who was picked up by the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) in 1996, never to return.
One among those women who are part of the tragic landscape of Kashmir, Rehti Begum of Cheke Kawoosa, Narbal, Budgam, was a trustee of the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP), the organisation whose years of work documenting the disappeared brought their grievous fate to international attention.
The APDP is marked by all its members having had sons and husbands taken away in the night from markets, homes and streets by government forces. Many years later, these missing men are among the thousands who have disappeared since 1989.
“I will carry on her mission for her son on her behalf and take it forward till I am alive,” says Parveena Ahanger at the ancestral house of Rehti Begum, at Narbal during the APDP’s monthly sit-in protest.
“It was pain that unites us all”, she said. “Till her death, she(Rehti Begum) remained dedicated to the cause of enforced disappearances, remained undiscouraged and would always say that she will find her disappeared son.”
The documentation done by the APDP claims that Sheikh was a daily wager who was subjected to enforced disappearance after being abducted from his home by CRPF personnel on 6 June 1994.
“Since then, Rehti Begum and her husband, Abdul Rehman Shiekh, were part of APDP,” says Parveena.
She says that Rehti accompanied her to far-off villages of Kashmir to document and assemble the family members of the abducted victims.
After her son was abducted, Rehti never ceased her search for him and kept waiting until her death from cardiac failure this April. “In the last 28 years, she visited from pillar to post to look for her son; she visited Papa II, Cargo torture centre, Badamibag Cantonment, besides numerous army camps across Kashmir but could not find traces of her son. However, she never lost hope. Instead she became an inspiration for others.”
Rehti Begum is survived by seven daughters. After Rehti lost her son, she was left all alone and had no one to earn a living in the family; her husband was ill and unable to work. Rehti took it on herself to earn for the family; she would do odd jobs to make ends meet for all of them.
“Rehti inspired us at every level. Her untiring belief that we will one day meet our dear ones again kept us going. She was like a pillar, and her loss is immense for us,” says Parveena.
Raja Begum, Rehti’s elder daughter, pledged to carry on and to continue looking for Ramzan, her brother.
“I will not forget my brother. I will keep looking for him and continue my mother’s mission. I will wait for his return like my mother did,” says Raja Begum.