Over three months after Hilal Ahmad Dar went missing during his trek to Gangbal lake, his family is clueless about his whereabouts, reports Syed Samreen
“Hilal, my sunshine, if you will somehow read this story, please come back. We are incomplete without you,” wailed Hilal Ahmad Dar’s aunt, while talking to this reporter.
Hilal lives in Bemina (Srinagar). He disappeared while on a trek to Gangbal Lake in upper Ganderbal. A PhD scholar from the University of Kashmir Hilal worked for Admiral Solutions Gurgaon, till the day he disappeared on June 14. The police have said that Hilal has joined militancy but the family maintains that he wouldn’t have done that in a thousand years.
The young man had left home early in the morning with his group of trekker friends on June 14. “At around 4, Hilal had updated his Whatsapp status showing that he was about to start ascending the track,” Nisar Ahmad, his uncle said. “I saw that status around 7:30 am and immediately started worrying about him. I sort of had a hunch.”
Nisar said that he had urged Hilal to return. “I told him that it wasn’t safe for him to go into the woods. Anything could happen to him, which in fact did. Now, we have lost him to the mountains,” he said.
Hilal was accompanied by his four friends, two of them brothers. He carried goggles, a bag and a phone with him. The family now goes to Naranag regularly to see if they can trace Hilal or any of his belongings. “I have lost my hope. I keep wandering around the area Hilal disappeared,” said Nisar.
Police have already registered a case. “His friends were retained for questioning by the police and then permitted to go home”, Nisar said. “The whole Kashmir was abuzz for the first couple of days but in the end, we are the only people left to lament the loss of our son”.
His fellow trekkers were interrogated by the police at length. They accompanied them to various treks for tracing the missing scholar but could not find any trace, anywhere. The police made a series of treks to the heights – once even stayed there for a few days, but no clue was available. Police apart, the family hired the local residents who knew all the area and they scanned every single thing over the slopes.
Police even tried to locate some of the people Hilal had talked on the phone in recent past. One of them belonged to Shopian and another to Kangan. In both cases, nothing came out to help the ongoing investigations. For most of the week, the family spends a lot of time shuttling between the home and the police station where the case is registered. Though the police sleuths are apparently satisfied with their investigation, so far, they are still planning to take the four trekkers for narco tests. They already had lie-detection tests as part of the investigations.
Hilal’s brother, Irshad Ahmad and his wife Aasifa are the only two people Hilal lives with. He is an orphan. His mother had passed away soon after the 2014 floods and father in 2018.
Aasifa cried and wailed the whole time Hilal’s story was being narrated by his uncle. She said that Hilal had not left home for three months since the virus started. She said that he used to work from home as well as study for his doctorate programme.
“We will never be able to accept the fact that Hilal has joined any militant outfit,” Aasifa said. “I knew every activity of his, I watched every move. I never even felt an iota of suspicion.” She asserted: “He has been held captive by someone. He has been abducted.”
After the lockdown was imposed to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus, Hilal had installed JioFiber, a high-speed internet service, at his residence, so that he could work uninterruptedly from home. He was basically working in Delhi and after the lockdown, the family literally pressurised him to return home.
“Hilal was passionate about his work and studies. He spent around Rs 2 lakh on renovating his room. He wanted to get married soon,” Aasifa said.
Ever since Hilal disappeared, his brother is in depression. “My husband comes back home and sits in seclusion. He says that he won’t stay in this house till his brother returns,” said Aasifa.
The family tries calling on Hilal’s contact numbers almost every hour. He had two cellular connections. Both of them at the beginning used to be unreachable but now they are either switched off or the call ends in an instant.
While Hilal’s family was sobbing quietly and narrating his story, Nisar got up in frustration and started checking the collection of Hilal’s books. He searched the entire bookrack from upside down only to make one vital point: “He doesn’t have any revolutionary books. He doesn’t have any kind of suspicious stuff in his belongings. He has been abducted. I will maintain till my last breath that he hasn’t joined militancy.”
When Kashmir Police Chief, Vijay Kumar met the family in person, he told them that the information of the police about Hilal joining militancy can be right or wrong. Kumar offered them a concession that if they succeed in bringing Hilal back, he would not be arrested.
The fact is that it is yet to be established that Hilal has joined militancy. In fact, the police are now questioning the inputs it earlier claimed it had, according to family sources.
The mysterious disappearance has devastated the family. They are unable to manage the business normally. They spend most of the time shuttling between Kangan to meet the investigators or the Partap Park to protest.