His son went to a doctor and did not return. Next morning, he was taken by the army and released in a condition forcing him to undergo three surgeries. Once able to walk, the father started hunting for his missing son, went to Pakistan twice and visited almost every single lock-up, garrison or a detention centre. Twelve years on, Qadir has not given up the hunt, reports Umar Mukhtar
On November 25, 2006, Firdous Ahmad Teli, then 23, a tractor driver was ferrying soil to fill a plot in Chogul Maidan, a small Handwara village. On way to his second-morning trip, Teli felt abdominal pain. As the pain became unbearable, Teli parked his tractor and went straight to see a doctor in Sopore, around 30 km away.
Usually, Teli would visit Dr Mattu, a specialist posted at sub-District Hospital, Sopore. But that proved his last visit. He went but did not return in the last 12 years.
That evening, when Teli’s labourer father, Ghulam Qadir Teli, 60, came home after a tiresome day with an aching body, he asked for his son.
‘He is not home,’ he got a reply from the other family members. Thinking his son might have stayed back with his relatives in Sopore, Qadir asked for dinner. He was about to take his first morsel when he heard a knock on the door. He got up and opened the door. There, he found army personnel all around. They had come from the Baghat Pora, one of Kupwara’s oldest army garrisons.
Qadir’s house was searched and ransacked. Finding nothing objectionable, the army left. The family quickly brought their home in order, had a quick dinner and retired for the night.
Next morning, Qadir went to the masjid for Fajar prayers. As he came back, as usual, he went to the cowshed to feed the cattle. By then, the birds chirping had started breaking the cool morning calm. As he came out of the shed, he found the same army column around.
Quickly, Qadir was ordered to move with them. “I told them that at least I will inform my family but they did not listen to my plea,” Qadir said. He was bundled in an awaiting military jeep and driven to Baghat Pora Garrison. His family was asleep, not knowing Qadir has been taken away.
At the garrison, Qadir alleged, he was subjected to third-degree torture. His hairs were pulled by the pliers, heavy metal rollers were rolled on his legs. “I was crying in pain,” remembers Qadir, reliving the session that still brings tears in his eyes. He alleged he was forced to drink water mixed with chillies till his stomach was full. Once he was done, the army personnel kicked his stomach until he vomited all that out.
“The only thing I was asked was about the presence of militants and arms,” Qadir said. “I had no contacts with militants how could I give them whereabouts.”
Back home, Firdous had not returned. There still was no information about his whereabouts. But now when even his father was missing, the family started worrying.
After failing to elicit any information from Qadir, he was let go in a bad condition. But the torture left him bedridden for two complete months. His family members had to assist him in going to the bathroom. His health deteriorated to such an extent that he had to undergo three back to back surgeries. “I had the disc problem, it was all result of the torture,” he said.
Firdous’s disappearance was a shock to the family. They searched him everywhere they could, but all in vain.
With the father in bed and the son disappeared, the family was all shattered. They lodged a missing report in the police station and published a missing report along with Firdous’s photograph in all the newspapers. “We could not find his address anywhere.”
Search for his son
Once Qadir was able to walk again, he started searching for Firdous. He started from police lockups and jails. Almost he went to every police station and jail to locate his son. Qadir had hopes that he would find his son in some jail. It was a new routine: he would anxiously await hearing his son’s name until the sentry finished reading the list of the prisoners in every jail.
The next possibility that the desperate father thought about was Firdous might have joined the militant ranks. ‘Had he joined the militants, at least he would have contacted his family,’ thoughts flashed Qadir’s mind. Whenever and wherever there was a gunfight, Qadir used to go there. He would search for his son among the dead militant bodies. “I used to wipe the blood from the militant faces to see if my son is one among them,” he said.
Qadir travelled across Kashmir: Uri, Gurez, and Kupwara in the north and went to Tral, Dialgam and Shopian in the south. “I went to Jungles to locate Firdous.”
Once he heard news about an encounter in Tujjar forests, he went and returned disappointed. As he was coming back, he discovered three dead bodies, lying half decomposed. “I cried there, no one was around me,” recalls Qadir.
In the CID records, Firdous is believed to be in Pakistan. Qadir was told that his son had gone to Pakistan for arms training and is now staying there. But they cannot furnish exact details about his exact location.
Search in Pakistan
With no exact address, in 2010 Qadir left for Pakistan in search for his son. He got a visa and went to Lahore via Amritsar. He has relatives there who have migrated to Pakistan in 1947. The desperate father wanted to go to another side of Kashmir where the boys, who cross Line of control, are believed to get training from. He was not allowed to go there. He had not permission for that very place to travel.
After a brief stay at Lahore, Qadir came back with a heavy heart. It was his last hope. Back home, he resumed the old practice of searching again: going to encounter sites, visiting the police station to ascertain the identity of his son among the unidentified dead bodies.
The resolve of the desperate father is unshaken. He thinks he is not done what he could do to locate his missing son. 1n 2017, he again visited Pakistan. With his efforts and to his luck, he got permission to travel into the Pakistan administered Kashmir. He could travel deep into Muzaffarabad and its surroundings. An irony, he said, the place that I had to reach is actually a three-hour drive from his home. ‘But the LoC is in between!’
There he met Syed Salahuddin, United Jihad council Chief. “I narrated my story to him. I told him about the CID report.” Qadir says that they helped him, took him to some locations showed all the names of the boys who were there. Qadir’s eyes were scanning each and every corner but could not find any address of his son. “I did not even get any hint where my son is.”
This address was the only option left with Qadir where he was optimistic about getting at least of any clue about the whereabouts of his son. But no, he could not. He returned back disappointed.
Once Qadir was back, his house was again raided by the army personnel. All of the documents related to his missing son were taken away.
The octogenarian Qadir’s resolve shows no signs of fatigue. He is continuing his search for his son. Also, Qadir never misses the APDP protest at Srinagar. He travels from Handwara to Srinagar to protest against his son’s disappearance. Qadir always scans the people’s faces to locate his son. “I know he will be dead now but I want to at least see where he was killed.”