Srinagar 22 Aug:The report by the J&K State Human Rights Commission establishing the presence of unmarked graves in Kashmir holding 2,156 unidentified bodies has given a glimmer of hope to hundreds who have been grieving for their spouses, siblings, children and friends who have gone missing over the past two decades, without any news.
As their wait for a closure, one way or the other, may now be just a DNA test away, here are stories of some of them:
A knock on the door one cold night
It has been nine years but Bilquees Manzoor hasn’t forgotten that knock on the door of their house at Rawalpora on the cold night of January 18. “When we opened the door, we found soldiers waiting outside,” says the 26-year-old. “They pushed us aside and started searching the house. When they finally left, they took my father along.” Manzoor Ahmad Dar had returned from his chemist shop just hours before. Bilquees says she and her family tried to resist but were pushed aside. Then only 17, she began searching for her father, starting from the Army camp where the raiding party of soldiers was stationed. “He (Major Malhotra) told us that he has been picked up for questioning and would be released soon,” she says. Bilquees says it was Major Malhotra who led the soldiers who picked up her father.
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Some time later, a probe was initiated into the custodial disappearance of Dar. On the basis of the inquiry, the Chief Judicial Magistrate, Srinagar, directed the Sadar Police Station to register a case against Major Malhotra and his men of 35 Rashtriya Rifles. But when they still got no news of Dar, the family approached the J&K High Court. On its directions, the DGP constituted a special team to investigate the case. The police sent several written communications to the Army and asked them to produce Major Malhotra and other accused soldiers before the inquiry officer. However, police say, there was no response from the Army. The accused Army officer was meanwhile shifted to Assam and promoted as Colonel with the Assam Regiment.
Hoping that the government acts on the SHRC report, Bilquees says: “All these years, we were living with the hope that he would return one day. But today we want to know whether he is dead or alive.” She will fight till she gets justice, she adds, “till the culprits are punished”.
A costly trip to the market
Ali Mohammad Mir, 50, hasn’t stopped blaming himself for that small task he gave his son. Mir’s father was ailing and he sent out Rajab to buy medicines near their residence in Brein Nishat. That was a bright sunny day in June 1996. Rajab hasn’t been seen since. He was picked up by counter-insurgents working with the Army who initially demanded money for his release and then one day just stopped calling. “He was picked up by Papa Kishtwari (a notorious counter-insurgent) and his associates,” says Rajab’s son Zahoor Ahmad Mir.
The police initiated an inquiry, and on September 15, 1999, the Sub Divisional Police Officer (SDPO) Nehru Park wrote a letter (CR/99/NP/22-94-94) to the Senior Superintended of Police, Srinagar: “…seen the missing person entering the camp of Papa Kishtwari. The said Ali Mohammad (Rajab) later disappeared.” The letter goes on to add that they suspect Rajab was tortured and his corpse disposed of.
While the police did arrest Kishtwari’s men who had picked up Rajab from the market, they were released after some time. “If the police are certain about their involvement, as the letter suggests, why were they released? Why is Papa Kishtwari still moving scotfree?”
Hopeful after the SHRC report of at least getting Rajab’s body, Zahoor says: “We only want to know the fate of our father. We don’t need any compensation… We know they have killed him. But where is the body? Where are his remains? I want to know. I want to see.”
A plate that always goes untouched
Whenever there is a celebration in the family, the Khans set out food on a plate and put it aside. She is 70 now but Sarwa Begum hasn’t stopped that practice, in the hope that one day there would be a knock on the door and her son who went missing 16 years ago would walk in, and demand his food. Jaleel Ahmad Khan, then 27, had left home at Shahkote in Uri for work that day in 1995. When he didn’t return, they went to every jail and security camp in the Valley. “But despite our all efforts, we couldn’t trace him,” says the distraught mother.
Sarwa isn’t even sure who picked up her son. One day in 1999, they got the news that Jaleel had been killed. They rushed there, but it turned out to be a false alarm. Then someone told them he had been spotted in a jail in central Kashmir’s Budgam district. Their hopes rekindled, “we started to look for him again”, says the mother. Since then, tragedy has struck the family again, with youngest son, Fayaz, 20, having an accident and becoming disabled. The earthquake in October 2005 destroyed their house.
About the SHRC report, Sarwa says she wants the government to tell them whether their children are dead or alive. “If they are dead, we want to see their graves where we can go and shed our tears,” says Sarwa.
Then there are the good days, when she and her 75-year-old husband Nawab Khan still believe Jaleel will return. “I am sure he can’t leave us like that.”
She has no answers for her son
Every winter, Tahira’s husband Tariq Ahmad would leave their home at Boniyar for Delhi for work. In 2002, he left and went missing, not reaching Delhi and not returning home. For nine years now 42-year-old Tahira has been asking everyone in authority just one question: whether she is a widow or not, and if her sons (16, 14 and 11 years’ old) are fatherless. The toughest is when her youngest son Sahil asks her about his father. “He was less than two years old then,” Tahira says. “He studies in Class VI now. Whenever he asks me questions about his father, I have no answers.”
Tahira has looked everywhere — in Kashmir and outside, in jails, security camps and interrogation centres. “It is not easy for me to think about the death of my husband,” she says. “But if the DNA test proves it, at least it will bring closure. It will at least end my uncertainty… I die every day. The hopes are slowly fading.”
First Published in Indian Express