Twenty years ago, a painter disappeared mysteriously in Srinagar. His traumatized wife went from police to judiciary to jails to seek answers but no one offered her any reprieve. As her fight continued, one of her three sons died. Living a life in solitude now, she narrates her ordeal to Mudasir Majeed.
When Bashir Ahmad Sheikh, a painter, disappeared in 1992, his two sons, Altaf and Riyaz, were barely in their teens. The younger one, Imtiyaz, was just seven. To feed her children, Dilshada, Bashir’s wife, learned to sew clothes and did menial jobs in the neighborhood.
Twenty years later, Dilshada is worn-out. Suffering from diabetes, she has partially lost her eyesight. She craves for care but there is none. “From sunrise to sunset, he would paint vehicles. He had no workshop. He used to work either at our home or in KMD Bus Stand in Lal Chowk. He would go wherever he was offered work,” Dilshada says.
The family lives in a shabbily built house in Zakoora’s Shiekh Hamaza Colony located on the outskirts of Srinagar city. Their agony began on June 16, 1992 when Bashir left home to buy paint in Maisuma. It was a fine summer morning.
“We expected him to return in two or three hours. When he didn’t come, I became worried. I asked my son, Riyaz, who was 10-year-old, to go to Maisuma. When he returned, he said he didn’t find his father,” recalls Dilshada. As she speaks, her voice sinks and she breaks down.
Despite the loss, Dilshada kept hoping that her husband would return. She says she had a feeling that he might have visited some relative. Two days had passed but there was not a bit of information about his whereabouts.
“On the fourth day, I reported the matter to the police and handed them his picture,” says Dilshada, “but the chances of tracing him waned day by day until a time came when the police said he wasn’t traceable at all.”
When she approached a court with a hope to find her husband, she was told that she would be compensated. “The government was asked to provide me Rs 1 lakh and a job to one of my sons as compensation. Money was granted 10 years ago but due to red-tapism, my son wasn’t able to get the job,” says Dilshada.
One day a neighbor told Dilshada that he saw her husband in Amritsar. But when she went there, she returned heartbroken. “On another occasion, someone said he was in Ladakh. I went there and it too turned out to be a hoax. I searched him in jails but he was nowhere.”
= Twenty years have passed but the memories of her husband still live in her. “How desperately I wish Bashir was here. I need him. For 20 years, I carried the agony of his loss. To aggravate the pain, my son, Riyaz, died two years back in a road accident which shattered me completely.”
Riyaz had developed severe psychosomatic disorders after his father’s disappearance, “When he was a child, he used to hold his father’s hand or grab his kurta. He wandered on the roads and a vehicle ran over him. He used to ask me about his father but I had no answers. He would often tell me that I didn’t look for him,” Dilshada says, tears welling up in her eyes.
Today, the grief-stricken Dilshada lives in isolation at her Shiekh Hamaza Colony residence. She had pinned hopes on her children, Altaf and Imtiyaz, but with their marriage and new members entering the house, her sons don’t even get her medicines.
“For a mere meal, I have to rely on them. I have rented out a room to the social welfare department. During day, it is their property and in the night, it becomes my bedroom. The rent of room is just Rs 200 per month. But I haven’t received a penny in the last three years. Rs 1 lakh which the government paid as compensation was divided among the children. They gave me Rs 12,000 as ‘maher’,” she says.
Two years ago, she joined the Parveena Ahanger-led Association of Parents of Disappeared, “I would have died somewhere due to the rising sugar level, but it was God’s mercy that I met Parveena Jee. For the last two years, she has brought me medicines. This year, she got my eye operated,” she says.
On Eid-ul-Azha this year, Dilshada went to Riyaz’s grave. “It comforts me when I go to his grave. The epitaph tells me my son is there, but my husband…. There is not even his grave … whether vultures ate him, I don’t know. Where did he go?” she asks.