Left Alone

The faces symbolising the battle for justice are fighting at many fronts. While the world knows their protracted struggle to get justice from the system, quite a few know about the tacit trauma they encounter while fighting the lowliness at home. Syed Asma and Saima Bhat meet some of the wrinkled victims who live on the margins at home after being abandoned by their families


Hajra once a mother of eight: six sons and two daughters, is today living in a single-bed-sized room with her teenage orphaned granddaughter, Saima. The old widow is living by herself for almost a decade now.

Hajra is among many widows in Kashmir whose search for her disappeared son has angered her family as it entails costs. In the last 25 years of conflict, there are around 10,000 persons who have disappeared, but not declared dead yet, after being picked up by men in uniform for questioning or by unidentified gunmen.

The story of Hajra however starts when India and Pakistan were one entity and Kashmir a princely state ruled by a Maharaja.

Many decades ago, Hajra, a young girl from Skardu (now in Pakistan) was married to a young wood cutter, Ghulam Ahmed Sofi, in Wanigam, Bandipora.  The couple was blessed with eight children including six sons. People in their locality would get jealous, Hajra remembers, “Six sons?” They would say. “Who knew I would be alone, destitute and dependent as I will grow older,” says the upset old widow.

Of eight children, four have passed away but the four alive, two sons and two daughters, just get a passing reference in her ordeal as they do not visit her often. Though, the two sons live in the same house. All her children except one were married.

Hajra repeating the same phrase “I had six sons!” continues, “…it all started after 1990s. Two of my sons, Nazir and Rafiq, consciously picked up guns, crossed border, got trained and fought. They made me proud and departed as martyrs.”

Hajira Pic: Bilal Bahadur
Pic: Bilal Bahadur

“The other two, Bashir and Ajaz, fell prey to the Army while the hunt for the rebel duo was on,” shares Hajra.

It all started in June 1995 when Bashir was picked up barefooted from his bakery shop by a group of armed people. Eyewitnesses say their faces were covered and they were wearing civvies and jungle boots.

It was the last time Bashir’s family could see him.

After waiting for a few days Hajra lodged an FIR. Later she came to know from the locals that men from 14 Rashtriya Rifles picked her son Bashir.

Few days later Hajra was called to the police station and told that there was a body in the nearby forests.  “I went to the spot which the police had identified. I saw a pool of blood but there was no sign which could make me believe that it was Bashir’s blood. It could have even been any animal’s blood,” she says with a frown on her forehead. “Isn’t it?” a pause follows.

After a while she continues with tearful eyes, “I am growing old, my health is failing, I will die soon I know but I want to see my son once. Just once.”

Hajra believes on hearsay by police that FIR is lodged in the case but when she went to the concerned police station for its copy, she alleges, the concerned official asked her to pay Rs 10,000 first.

Within a month of Bashir’s disappearance, Nazir was killed in an encounter in Panzgam, a nearby village, while he was coming home to meet his mother.

“He had informed me he was coming. The night I was expecting him, I heard a dozen of gunshots and deep down I knew he got killed.”

It is Nazir’s daughter Saima who is presently living with Hajra. Her mother along with her other siblings are living in Uri. She had sued Hajra for Saima’s custody but Hajra won the case. None of the Hajra’s son’s widows visit her. They have re-married.

Rafiq, a trained militant like Nazir, was killed in an encounter in Bandipora. After a year, Aijaz disappeared. He left home for some work but never returned.

Hajra does not remember details. More than a decade has passed and her memory has blurred. What she remembers and laments about is; she has lost her sons!

Hajra’s world is now confined to that small room. Mostly keeping unwell, she spends her time either sitting in that room or roaming around police stations and courts asking records of her disappeared sons. She will keep on looking for her missing sons till her last breath, she says.

The neatly dressed-up room, serving as kitchen, living room and bedroom has a glass window which opens out into a small vegetable garden. On one of the walls in the room is hanging a photograph, a collage of her six sons.

“Every night she takes this photograph along to bed. Covers it with her scarf and holds it close to her chest,” says Saima. “She misses them a lot, even the ones who are alive.”

Sitting near the window, Hajra says “We prefer to be in the room. Saima remains busy with books and I kill time listening to the radio.”

She adds while pointing towards the radio, “a faithful companion than my husband who ditched me in the midway and left me alone to die.” Ghulam Mohammed died eight years ago after battling with cancer for a long time.

“He could not bear the loss of his six sons, four to the conflict and two to their wives,” she says angrily. “Losing parents is acceptable but losing children? Four of them is…” Hajra sobs.

Knowing the attitude of Fayaz and Farooq towards their parents, Ghulam Mohammed before his death handed over the legal papers of the left-over property, though very little, to Hajra and advised her to keep it with herself only.

“He knew the duo [sons] is useless and would be of no use to me,” she says angrily. Hajra calms herself and sighs!

“In these eight years I even had to sell-off the left-over property for my medicine and Saima’s education. However, there are well-wishers who help me but still I had to,” she says.

 “It is impossible to reconcile with the fact that my disappeared duo is dead. I will even sell-off my last drop of blood to look for their details. This is probably what is unacceptable to my sons [who are alive] but it hardly bothers me.”

Agreeing to Hajra, Rahmat seconds her opinion and is following her footsteps. Despite her children’s [the ones who are alive] resistance, Rahmat keeps on attending sit-ins and does everything to know the whereabouts of her missing son, Manzoor Ahmad.

Rahmat Pic: Bilal Bahadur
Pic: Bilal Bahadur

Hailing from Kandi, Baramulla, the 60-year-old widow, Rahmat, had three sons and a daughter. Manzoor went missing in early 1990’s. The other three married and got settled with their families.

Rahmat living in her modest mud house was all alone for past many years until recently when Shahid, her grandson, joined her. Shahid would not be more than 10-year-old. “I wasn’t well recently, so his mother kept him with me,” says Rahmat.  Rahmat’s daughter is married in a nearby village.

Rahmat prefers to be economical with her words. Reluctant to share her story she prefers to remain quiet. “She doesn’t talk much since she has been unwell,” says Rahat, her neighbour, a friend and a companion of many years now.

Rahmat’s neighbours say she got widowed immediately after she gave birth to her fourth child, her daughter. Her labourer husband died of a heart attack and since then she is struggling. The lonely widow has been managing all by herself since decades now.

She spun charkha, earned money, raised her children, got them educated, married them off and eventually they left her alone. Manzoor was her eldest son, whose disappearance came as a blow to the family.

The other two after getting married shifted to their new homes, one has moved to Srinagar and other to a nearby village. Both are labourers.

Avoiding being alone, Rahmat had married-off her children in her own village. “I thought their wives would know our struggle, would understand our plight and would help me to know Manzoor’s whereabouts, but I was wrong,” says an extremely disappointed Rahmat. “They left me alone to die.”

While paying gratitude to her neighbours, Rahmat says, her failed health does not allow her to work, not even the household things. It is Rahat who helps her out. From washing to cooking, Rahat does everything for her.

It is not only Hajra and Rahmat who are living alone despite having some of their dear ones alive. Sixty years old Phaiz is equally painful.

Phaiz Pic: Bilal Bahadur
Pic: Bilal Bahadur

Sitting on the staircase of a government hospital in Baramulla, Phaiz is sobbing. Not been able to talk properly, she says, “I had a tooth extraction and it is pains like hell. I feel nausea and I am worried how would I reach home?”

Before her tooth got extracted the doctors in the district hospital in Baramulla wished that somebody from her family should accompany her for legal formalities, to take responsibility that if any untoward happens to her. She didn’t have anyone along. She came out of the hospital and sat on the stairs on ground floor leading to the hospital. She started weeping, for the pain she was in and for her loneliness.

After sometime, a boy came and inquired from Phaiz why she was in tears. And then he came along with her and became her son for 30 minutes in the hospital to sign all legal formalities. And then he left.

Blessed with four sons, Phaiz presently lives in a small room built outside her younger son’s house at Rangwara, Baramulla. To feed herself, she works as a sweeper in a nearby school. It earns her Rs 150 a month.

Phaiz’s once a happy family dispersed after her husband, Ghulam Mohi-ud-din Wani passed away. He was a labourer and Phaiz too was working then to feed her family of six members.

Trying to withstand her husband’s loss, Phaiz lost her only hope she was now living for. Her younger son, Nazir Ahmed who was studying in class 11 in 1990 when he was picked up by Army, and never came back.

Nazir, whom Phaiz loved the most, was working as a salesman in a nearby shop after his father’s health started to deteriorate.  “Nazir went missing five days after his father died,” says Phaiz.

Initially Phaiz thought he might have gone to some of his friends place and she didn’t write any formal complaint with the state police but as the days passed some of her neighbours informed her that Nazir was picked up by some unidentified armed persons. “He disappeared in thin air without leaving any foot prints,” sobs Phaiz.

Since then Phaiz regularly attends sit-in organized by Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP), in Srinagar on 10th of every month to seek whereabouts of her missing son. She finds at home when she is with other women who have lost their loved ones to the conflict.

About the rest of the family Phaiz shares some bitter experience. “Not even a month had passed after Nazir’s disappearance that my daughter-in-laws threw me out of the house. My sons didn’t interfere,” she laments.

It was after the elders of the village interfered that one of her sons allowed her to build a room in his compound. “They will be waiting for my death so that their compound gets cleared-off.”

The sixty-year-old widow is presently managing with a single blanket in her room. “I am sure I would die in the middle of the night and my sons would not know about me. They never show-up.”

“I wish their children do the same with them.”

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