Missing Mysteries

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On this World Human Rights Day, the issue of disappeared in the custody would remain a huge question mark over the governance structure of the state. But the society will also have to face certain uncomfortable questions, explains Saima Bhat’s visit to a couple of families whose members were never found

Parents and relatives of disappeared person during their monthly sit-in protest at Pratap Park Srinagar.

In the spring of 1983, 25-year-old Gulshan and 30-year-old Ghulam Nabi Dar met for the first time. Sharing a common crisis of being widowed, both Dar and Gulshan had lost their partners during the early years of their marriage. The only solace the duo had at individual levels was that both were single parents: Gulshan’s daughter, Shabnum, who was of three years of age, and Dar’s son, Manzoor, was of six.

It took a bit of time, but finally, they took the vows. They actually went a step ahead. Before solemnizing their marriage, the couple decided to perform nikah of Shabnum and Manzoor, to ‘secure’ their future.

Once they did it, Dar, a mechanic who owned a shop in Batamaloo bus yard, completed his family and started living happily in their double storey house in Gangbug, not far away from his Batamaloo shop.

Originally a resident of Habba Kadal in Srinagar, they had shifted to present place in the early 80s. The kid-couple found sibling love in each other and Shabnum started calling Manzoor her brother as well.

The time passed peacefully. The family of four became seven as Gulshan gave birth to a son and two more daughters.

Expanded family increased the expenses. Manzoor, being the eldest son, volunteered to help his father and joined his shop to run the family. And it continued until March 30, 1997, when family alleges that Manzoor along with his friend was bundled in an army vehicle on Tengpora bypass. He, the family says, was returning from his shop.

Shabnam was the last person to talk with Manzoor. She had called him on a landline telephone asking for an extra packet of milk as they were expecting a few guests at home.

Waiting to have Manzoor back along with the extra packet of milk, Dars were shocked to know that Manzoor and his two more friends, also residing in Gangbug, were on way to their home when they were stopped by forces. “One among them was slapped and left there, and two of them were taken along,” Gulshan was informed by Manzoor’s friend, who was not arrested.

Shattered, the family rushed to the spot and begged the battalion posted on Tengpora bypass if they recognised the regiment who took the two boys.

Manzoor Ahmad Dar

The response was “the regiment was of 20 Grenade RR who was camping in Bemina area,” they told us. “They (army) were returning from Batamaloo area where they had made an arrest. And when they saw these three boys together, they took two of them along.”

The next destination for the family was the Bemina garrison. Once inside, they were asked to come the next day. Back home, they spent the sleepless night as many untoward thoughts crossed their minds. “Whole night we were waiting for the dawn. It was the longest night of our lives,” Gulshan said.

Hoping that they would get their son back, the Dars left for the garrison again. But once they reached the camp, they were shocked to see that it was all empty, completely deserted. “They (army) had vacated the premises the same night and we were left helpless,” says Gulshan. That marked the beginning of their never-ending struggle.

“That day changed everything. I and my husband used to leave every day in the morning to visit every single camp from Kupwara, Baramulla to Udhampur, to look for Manzoor,” Gulshan said. “We even went to Rajasthan. We did it for one complete decade.”

Back home, Shabnum who was in the tenth standard dropped out of her school to take care of her siblings. Most often, the distraught parents started visiting every faith healer and the mediators who gave them hope of getting Manzoor back. “On the 15th day of his disappearance, we were asked by a mediator to give him Rs 40,000 and next day it was Sunday. We managed the amount by borrowing it from different people as the banks were closed,” Gulshan said. “Once we paid him the amount, he disappeared into thin air with that money and we never found him again.”

The urge to have Manzoor back compelled the family to trust few more people. In another case, a mediator had informed them that he met Manzoor and handed over him ‘two blankets and a jacket’. “We were so desperate to get a glimpse of Manzoor or hear about his safety that we didn’t even question him why he needed blankets and jacket in the month of July,” Shabnum added.

That was a different era. “Farooq Abdullah was the Chief Minister when forces used to arrest boys and parents were given no information about them,” Gulshan said. “Anybody arrested those days eventually is a missing case. They disappeared as if they were never born. They vanished.” She is witness to the disappearance of three more boys, who were arrested from Tengpora bypass.

With main bread earner lost into oblivion, Dars were face to face with the crisis to manage the hearth. The family was unable to understand if the financial crisis was bigger than the emotional trauma they were in. It was Dar’s sister who came to the rescue. She gave one of her three sons to her brother so that he could earn for the family and be their support till they get to know the whereabouts of Manzoor.

Ghulshan, mother of Manzoor Ahmad Dar

Dar too started to work again on the insistence of a couple of neighbours who wanted him to earn. Gulshan along with her sister-in-law and few neighbours, who too had their sons missing, started to travel to different places to search for Manzoor. They started hiring a vehicle every day and then travel extensively to almost every jail they knew about to look after their missing ones. “I even paid a few people to click pictures inside jails so that I could recognise my son,” she said.

During mid-nineties, all parents of the disappeared person constituted the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) with advocate Parvez Imroz as the legal counsel. Gulshan also joined them. When it split into two (in 2006), she continued to be with Imroz’s APDP. “Whenever Manzoor’s case was listed in court, I used to appear but the case never reached the level of argument,” Gulshan said. “Filing the case with Imroz managed to get me an FIR for my missing son; FIR No. 7594.”

In the meantime, Manzoor’s case was registered in state human rights commission (SHRC) as well, which according to Gulshan, are going to give her a compensation of Rs one lakh, but they have informed her that the case has been shifted to the outside state. “That thing has shattered my all hopes. Since then, I am not following the case anymore.”

As Gulshan was fighting the battle of searching Manzoor, she was face to face with another issue, the health of her husband. Dar started feeling unwell. Before she could manage it, another tragedy befell the family.

It was August 10, 2001, exactly after four years of Manzoor’s disappearance, Gulshan’s sister-in-law’s son went shopping alone. “In the afternoon, we had our appointment with a doctor so I told him we’ll pick him up from the shop.”

Mohammad Yousuf Lone

But once Gulshan and her husband Dar reached near the shop, they saw many people had assembled there. “When we went closer we got to know he has been arrested by a battalion in Karan Nagar,” Gulshan said. “We took his clothes from the shop and straightaway went to the camp. But they refused to take the clothes. In the next few days, he was handed over to Special Task Force and was eventually killed on August 15. We received his body the next day.”

Gulshan laments of not having any document or an FIR copy because all of the documents were washed away in September 2014 floods.

With the borrowed support lost, the family of Dar’s is struggling financially. Due to Dar’s bad health, he couldn’t work every day. He has developed multiple ailments like diabetes, kidney problem, and cardiac problem and prostate.

This pushed his other children to face the brunt. Umar Nabi, his other son, quit his studies and is now a painter. Dar’s daughter, Iqra Nabi, left her studies in twelfth class and picked up the embroidery handicraft to help her family. Only youngest daughter, Mehvish Nabi, who has just started her college, could continue her studies.

In 2011, when Dar lost all of his hope that he could ever see his son again, he decided to marry Shabnum. With utmost difficulty, he managed the marriage, but that lasted for a year only. After one year, Shabnum, who was expecting her first baby, was left by her husband. And since then, she has started living with the family again along with her son.

Dar is a shattered man. Since 2016, his cardiac problem aggravated. He recently survived a heart attack. Doctors have suggested him for a surgery in which two stents will be fixed in his heart. The cost of this procedure, family says is around Rs 2 lakhs. Monthly, his medicine bill is around Rs 20,000. His angiography has warned him for going for MRI. “He has a small metallic particle near his heart and if we go for his MRI, it can God forbid damage his heart, or any other part that could prove deadly,” Gulshan said.

Ghulam Hassan Magloo

Not worried about his health, Dar says his priority is to marry off his second daughter, Iqra, who is engaged.

“I used to do embroidery on shawls but I continuously get a headache,” Shabnam said. “Since the day I started earning, that went into managing the daily expenses of our family. I don’t have anything left to plan my marriage or get trousseau,” Iqra said. Shabnam says they request Iqra not to work on shawls as it creates more problems for her. “She looks pale. But we can’t consult a doctor because we fear if he asks for some blood tests and we don’t have money. If we get to earn a few, we prefer to save that for our father. Every month his medicines cost us Rs 20,000.”

Gangbug’s Dars’ are not the only family struck by tragedies, like this.

Around 10 kilometres away from Tengpora bypass, in Baghwanpora Noorbagh, Muhammad Yousuf Lone, son of Ghulam Muhammad Lone, disappeared on April 06, 1992. He was 22 years old then, and the FIR stands registered in police station Safa Kadal.

Lone’s case was a bit complicated as his father accused his son’s wife of the disappearance. He was married and had a daughter, Arifa, who was two years old then and a son, Umar, who was a toddler. Because of this accusation, senior Lone lost every contact with his son’s family.

Yousuf’s wife told Kashmir Life that her husband had planned to go to his maternal house in Khan Sahib Budgam. “After 26 years, he is yet to reach there. I don’t know where he vanished leaving me in a perpetual struggle.”

Yousuf’s main occupation was selling mutton in his locality, but at times, he tried his hand at carpet weaving as well. After he disappeared, “I was disowned from the property. I had to shift back to my parents’ house. My kids were toddlers. Where would have I gone?”

In 2011, Ghulam Muhammad Lone passed away, but before dying, he gave Yousuf’s family a minimum share from his property of worth Rs 18 lakhs then. Meanwhile, the junior Lone’s case was in court as well and the government ordered the family for compensation of Rs four lakhs.

“I had no option but to accept that money. I built a small house from that money so that my orphan kids have a roof over them,” she said. “I could have got a government job as well under the SRO but my in-laws gave an adverse report that time.”

Lone’s daughter Arifa has now completed her MA and Umar just completed his matriculation and has now taken carpentry as his profession.

Just a few houses away from Lone’s lives the family of Ghulam Hassan Magloo. They have lost all hopes to see their son again. Born in a middle-class family, his mother also expired while waiting for him.

Magloo, then 28, an artisan, disappeared on June 20, 1999, at Kanitar in Lal Bazar. That day, he was with his friend Fayaz Ahmad Malik from Saidapora, and since then, there is no information about both of them.

Magloo’s brother, who is also an artisan (wishing not to be named), says his brother was a released militant. “He was a militant with Tehreek-ul-Mujahideen but when he was arrested and kept in jail for around two and a half years, he left militancy,” he said.

Umar, son of Mohammad Yousuf Lone, showing documents related to his father’s disappearance. KL Image: Malik Kaisar

Back home, his separation from militancy did not bring him any respite. His house was raided continuously and because of the fear, he stopped visiting home. “After his release, he continued to work as an artisan and we, our mother and two brothers, were at least happy that he was alive in front of us.”

But the happiness did not last long. After he disappeared, the police didn’t provide an FIR to the family. The police, according to Magloo’s eldest brother, had denied FIR, saying that he was an ex-militant. But he filed a case in district court. Over the years, he was following the case till it was shifted to High Court. “Actually after September 2014 floods, when I was informed that my case file has been washed away, I found it futile to visit the court again.”

The disappeared Magloo’s case was filed by APDP patron, Imroz, but as justice eluded Magloo’s for two decades, his eldest brother says, “It was useless to follow the case. My family is suffering now as we don’t have any source of income.” He says they owned a family land, but as the rest of the two brothers separated, he can’t spend much on the case as he has his own family. “Following a case needs time as well as money, that majority of the disappeared family don’t have. Majority of us are poor so we keep on working to meet our hand to mouth situations,” he added.

– with inputs from Malik Kaisar

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