In Kashmir They Were Mothers Too, Once Upon A Time

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Today they would be observing their lost motherhood, only if they knew that it was Mothers’ Day for the rest of the world. They would then probably clutch the portraits of lost sons to their hearts again, gather up memorabilia, and lose themselves in reverie – the tears have long dried up.

Some of them have done this for two decades, and in the past few years, every fortnight in central Srinagar for rustic sons not sophisticated enough to bring cards or messages – – their gruff calls for evening meals, nevertheless, carrying a robust endearment felt rather than spoken.

In grief and trauma, children in many such families have lost mental health, and one mother says that she has become a good actor at make-believe, faking happiness for the sake of what remains of her home.

The past twenty years of conflict in Kashmir have ensured that there are thousands of such mothers, and according to human rights groups here, around 8000 of them are suffering because of “enforced disappearances,” a phenomenon perfected by the security forces, and protected by the government.

Except for a handful of activists, no one in Kashmir cares for their tragic stories. But they have forged themselves into a valiant band determined to fight the state and ask what happened to their loved ones. For two decades or more there have been no answers.

For 65- year- old Hajira Begum of Waniegam of north Kashmir’s Bandipur district the life has shrunk to activities like attending neighborhood mournigs, and nursing her grandchildren from three sons, who were killed by the army in early 1990’s.

Hajira, whom others call (Haji Masse) says, she saw her family vanishing. Her three sons- Nazir Ahmad Sofi,Muhammad Rafiq Sofi and Aijaz Ahmad Sofi were killed by the army, and then her husband died She blames both, the centre and the state machinery for her grief and trauma. But she is proud trio who, she says, achieved martyrdom for representing the voice of the oppressed in Kashmir.

Hajira says she the dies every day for her son, Bashir Ahmad Sofi, whom she would call ‘Kak’, who was picked up by army and never returnned.

“I lost my Kak (Bashir) and I lost everything. I am the only elder in my family to look after the kids of my three martyred sons, including his,” Hajira says.

“Sometimes I wonder why I am alive after seeing my family destroyed,” she says.

Bashir had a shop in Sunarwan area of district Bandipor. Hajira says he was on his shop that day when he was picked up by the14 RR, never to return.

“miyani gobra tala yeman wan asi chu na naukri te ropye zarurat, asi haiwtokh sirf panin shur,” she says.

(My son, please tell these people –the government -that we don’t need their jobs and money, tell them we only want to see our sons back in our lives)

She accuses New Delhi of turning her life into hell. She says that forces personnel, including some of administrative officers of that time destroyed her home.

“God is with me, and I am hopeful that my Lord will punish the culprits in a fitting manner- but what I will never forget is the pain I am in. I will never forget the scene when my three sons were martyred, that gives me sleepless nights. These deep wounds are in all of our hearts and they won’t be healed by any medicine, by any compensation or any job offer. It could only heal when my Kak  knocks on the door again and says moji ba hai awsai, shere batte (mother, I have come, serve meals),” she says.

Among the mothers of the Valley’s missing is another gutsy woman, Parveena Ahnager, who says that though she has failed to trace the whereabouts of her son, her struggle was the beginning of a continuing battle to trace the missing sons for all mothers in the valley. She says it is a battle fought with anguish and despair; a battle which she continues to fight with courage and fortitude.

Ahanger, 59, who speaks a broken Urdu and couldn’t understand English speaks some technical court terms like writ petition, habeas corpus, commissions, division bench, hearing etc. she says she has started a fight on behalf of all such mothers looking for the whereabouts  of their missing sons, and husbands. She says it was after her son; Javaid Ahmad Ahanger (15 at the time of arrest) was picked up by the forces almost two decades back that led her to become an activist.

In 1991 Parveena`s son was picked up by the forces and she has never heard from him again. She says the forces in a search-and-cordon operation picked him up at night from his uncle`s home where he was studying.

Through sheer determination and grit she learnt to find her way through brutality and callousness. She says her fear disappeared along with her son. She went from police station to police station, interrogation centres to army camps, police posts to police headquarters, hospital to VVIP bungalows, looking for disappeared.

She met many others like her who were also searching for their loved ones. Parveena opened her home to them where they would bond together, share their grief and their meals, draw their strength and set out on their search together, which gave birth to their common child, in 1994, that is Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP).

An organization compiled of victims headed by Ahanger, relentlessly campaigning against enforced disappearances in Jammu and Kashmir. APDP is an association of the relatives of the victims of Enforced Disappearances in Jammu and Kashmir comes together to seek justice and to get information on the whereabouts of their disappeared family members.

“When I heard in the morning that Javaid had been taken by the army in a van, I was distraught. I thought my son is innocent and would be set free. But all went in vain,”  Parveena Ahnager, who is also the chairperson of the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons, says.

“Court has not done anything so far. Judges have no power of delivering justice to the victims of the Kashmir, which is very unfortunate. We don’t need any compensation we need an impartial commission on these disappearances,” she says.

“Farooq Abdullah, Mufti Sayed , Ghulam Nabi Azad and now Omar Abdullah, they couldn’t do any justice with our cases,” she says.

“APDP hasn’t remained an association of victims only. We have become a family now. As the number of disappearances started growing the origins and aims of this form of repression, became evident. It was part of the larger policy of repression followed by the state, a strategy to terrorise people. Efforts by individuals to trace their missing relatives became unsustainable,” she says.

She says that during the early nineties in Kashmir, very few people dared to come to the court for redress. In 1994, Parveena filed a habeas corpus petition in the Srinagar High Court. With the help of human rights activists and lawyers more and more petitions continued to be filed.

“More and more family members got together, went to court together, held demonstrations together. We will not accept any compensation neither any job offer. We want the whereabouts of beloved sons whom they (army) treated like animals,” Parveena says.

The United Nations Commission on Human Rights established a Working Group in 1980 to assist families in determining the fate and whereabouts of disappeared relatives.

The main purpose of the visit was to make submissions on behalf of the APDP on the issue of Enforced Disappearance in Kashmir. The written submissions by APDP consisted of six individual case submissions (along with extensive documentation) as well as a general submission on the issue of Enforced Disappearances in Kashmir, and features of the legal framework which impede efforts of families seeking justice.

For Khalida Begum 47, of Narbal, the abduction of her son, Showkat Ahamd in late 1990’s left her family shattered. Ahmad was a student of BSC second year in one of the city colleges. She says three years after his son’s abduction; her husband developed severe heart ailments and had to stay home, and their livelihood suffered. Besides his daughter became mentally disturbed and had to be admitted in valley’s psychiatric hospital.

“My son had gone out to check his BSC second year results but forces picked him up and then he never came back to greet me. Now I am wondering for the results of his whereabouts, everything got shattered,” says Khalida.

Over the years, Khalida herself has become a diabetic and hypersensitive but she says when she sees her family- husband and her daughter, she forgets everything.

“I have become a good actor now. I act in a way that makes my family happy otherwise I am shattered and broken,” she says. “For about three years, we couldn’t do anything and then we went from the pillar to the post to trace the whereabouts of my son but no results.”

She says when her son wasn’t associated with any militant outfit, why was he picked up made to disappear.  “Why did this happen, was he a threat to these ministers. He was the support of my old age; he was my only hope, my only son. Now I have only his memories with me,” she says.

Khalida says she has never stopped to serve the meals in his son’s plate.

“It gives me self-satisfaction and it has become a routine for me now to serve his meals in his plate also. I hope I will hear him once again and see him among us,” Khalida says.

These women have become human rights activists in order to achieve a common goal. For over two decades, the mothers have fought for the right to re-unite with their abducted children. Rehti Bano, 60, of Check Kawoosa of central Kashmir’s district Budgam and Taja Begam, 45, of her neighboring village Bati-pora, Kanihama have knocked the doors of ever office in the district administration, but they say their voices were never answered.

Rehti’s son Muhammad Ramzan Shiekh, who according to her was in his early twenties during time of his abduction left her family in grief, as he was the only son among eight children Rehti’s husband also died after he disappeared.

“There is no male member in my family now. I have seven daughters; I have now managed to get four of them married. I am their only hope-their mother and father as well,” she says.

“I still remember the people who picked him up. They had donned whitish dress and some of them had covered their faces under black scarf’s,” she recalls.

She says that tragedy didn’t end there. When her son was been taken away by the forces, Rehti resisted it and shouted at them.

“I resisted and ran behind them; then they suddenly fired in the air first and then beat my hands with gun butts,” holding hers, deformed, up.

“We are not asking for any job, for any compensation, we want the whereabouts of our dear ones, who were forcibly picked up from our midst,” she says.

Taja Begum of Batpora Kanihama of district Budgam says that protesting on the 10th of every month has become a movement. She says she would prefer for die rather than making a deal over their dear ones.

“This has certainly become a movement for us; we will continue our fight against the brutal acts by the forces and every government in power here,” Begum says.

“This is the 13th year of my son Aijaz being lost; parents have many dreams for their children, but I have only one that I want to see his face gain, I want to hug him tight,” she says.

“I went to so many places to trace him. agar woh zinda hai, tuo hum se door kyon hai (If he is alive, then why is he away from us,” Begum asks.

Katija, 60, of Chatabal, Srinagar had adopted her nephew, but she says she was not allowed to dream more by the state machinery.

“I had no children. So I had adopted my nephew. 34 RR took him out from our Chatabal home and then he never returned,” she says.

“I went to Human Rights Commission repeatedly, and after a long time, it told me that I wouldn’t get him back,” she says.

Another mother of the missing in the valley is Azra Begum of By-Pass Tengpora in Srinagar She accuses India for her plight, she says truth would prevail and expose the wrongdoing of largest democracy of the world.

Her son Mustaq Ahmad Dar was picked up by the 20 Grenadiers in 1990.

“I have taken an oath, that we will fight for these families and this movement will never stop functioning for the welfare of the affected families victims. We want an independent probe should be ordered to trace out the whereabouts of our dear ones will be ascertained,” she says.

In Kashmir, people wouldn’t forget the relentless fight of Kashmir’s brave and fighting mother, Mughli,– the elderly woman whose relentless fight to trace her only son had become the epitome of the struggle of the parents of disappeared in Kashmir. She died without closure. She was the mother of Nazir Ahmad Teli, who was a school teacher and disappeared in 1990 after he was picked up by the forces, never to return.

She was separated from her husband before the birth of her son; Mughli began a lonely search and a life that was filled with silence and solitude.

For years, Mughli lived alone in her large family house deep inside Srinagar’s Habba Kadal where narrow streets run like a crawling snake through a cluster of housing blocks. The hope that her son may return was so much alive that she would spend days at the window, looking out at the door.

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